Urethral discharge is any type of discharge or liquid, besides urine or semen, that comes out of the opening of the penis. It can be several different colors and happens due to irritation or infection of the urethra.
A urethral discharge culture is used to identify infections
in your urethra or genital tract, specifically for men and male children. The
urethra is the tube that carries urine and semen through your penis, outside of
A urethral discharge culture is also called a culture of
urethral discharge, or a genital exudate culture.
Purpose of testing urethral discharge
Most often, your doctor will recommend a urethral discharge
culture test if you have signs or symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection,
- painful urination
- increased urine frequency
- discharge from the urethra
- redness or swelling around the urethra
- swollen testicles
The culture tests for any bacterial or fungal organisms
present in your urethra. The test can detect sexually transmitted infections
(STIs), such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted bacterial
infection that affects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract. This
includes the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in
women and men. It most commonly occurs in your genital tract, but can also
occur in your throat or anus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the
United States. It can cause urethritis and proctitis (infection of the rectum)
in both men and women.
Symptoms for both gonorrheal and chlamydial infections in
the urethra in males include:
- painful urination
- pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
- pain or swelling in the testicles
Gonorrheal or chlamydial proctitis in men and women are often
associated with rectal pain and pus or bloody discharge from the rectum.
Reproductive tract infections in women with gonorrhea or
chlamydia are usually associated with abnormal vaginal discharge, lower
abdominal or vaginal pain, and painful intercourse.
Risks of urethral discharge culture testing
Urethral discharge culture testing is a relatively simple
but uncomfortable procedure. Some risks include:
- fainting, due to stimulation of the vagal nerve
What to expect and how to prepare
Your doctor or nurse will perform the test in their office.
To prepare, refrain from urinating at least one hour before
the test. Urination may wash away some of the germs that the test is trying to
First, your doctor or nurse will clean the tip of your penis
with a sterile swab, where the urethra is located. Then, they will insert a
sterile cotton swab about three-quarters of an inch into your urethra and turn
the swab to gather a large enough sample. The process is quick, but it may be
uncomfortable or slightly painful.
The sample is then sent to a lab where it’s put into a
culture. Lab technicians will monitor the sample and check for any bacteria or
other growth. The test results should be available to you in a few days.
Planned Parenthood even offers STI tests you can
do at home and mail in, for anonymity and comfort.
Understanding your test results
A normal, negative result means there’s no growth in the
culture and you don’t have an infection.
An abnormal, positive result means growth was detected in
the culture. This signals an infection in your genital tract. Gonorrhea and chlamydia
are most common infections.
Sometimes a person can carry of one of these organisms without
showing any symptoms. The CDC recommends
testing for STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia for sexually active women younger
than 25 and gay and bisexual men with multiple partners.
Even if you’re not having symptoms, you can still transmit
one of these infections to one of your sexual partners if you’re carrying the
As always, you should follow safe sex practices to prevent
the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
If you’re diagnosed with an STI, it’s important to notify
all of your sexual partners so that they can be tested as well.
A urethral discharge culture is a simple and accurate way to
test for infections in your urinary tract. The procedure is quick but may be
painful or uncomfortable. You’ll get results within a couple of days and if the
results are positive, you can receive treatment quickly.