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 your body.
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, including:
- 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 capture.
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 bacteria.
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.