Urethritis is irritation or infection of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that empties urine from the bladder. In men the urethra extends the full length of the penis. A woman's urethra is short (about 1 and 1/2 inches long). Its opening is just above the vagina and not far from the anus. This means it is easy for bacteria to enter a woman’s urethra from these areas.
Urethritis may be caused by infection. Sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, is a common cause in men and women. Yeast infection may also cause it.
In women urethritis may be caused by an irritation. For example, rubbing or pressure on the genital area from tight clothing or sex can cause urethritis. It can also be caused by physical activity such as bicycle riding. Irritants such as soap, body powder, and spermicides are other possible causes.
In men, common symptoms are:
In women the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of a bladder infection and include:
Your healthcare provider will ask about possible irritants and your recent sexual history.
If you are a man, discharge from the penis may be tested in the lab. The tests will look for infection with a sexually transmitted disease. If tests don’t find an STD, your provider may conclude that you have nonspecific urethritis (NSU). Several types of bacteria are associated with NSU, but it is not easy to test for them.
In women it can be harder to find what is causing the symptoms. Urethritis almost never causes a discharge from a woman's urethra. Sometimes the urethra is red or swollen. Your healthcare provider will examine the urethra and area around it. Your provider may look for drying and thinning of tissues. Your provider may swab the urethral area and cervix to test for bacteria in the lab. A sample of your urine may be tested for infection.
Whether you are male or female, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics if your symptoms are caused by an STD. Your sexual partner should also be treated. Your provider may prescribe another medicine to help relieve burning with urination and discomfort in the bladder.
If you are a man and the cause of your infection is found and it is not an STD, you will be treated with antibiotics to cure the infection. If no specific infection is identified, your provider may prescribe 2 to 4 weeks of antibiotics for NSU to see if the antibiotic stops the symptoms.
Symptoms caused by an infection should stop within a few days after you start taking antibiotics. A woman starting to take estrogen for postmenopausal tissue changes may feel some relief from her symptoms after several days or weeks.
Men who have nonspecific urethritis may keep having a small amount of discharge from the urethra for some time after treatment. The discharge may be clear to slightly cloudy in color, but there should be no discomfort. If you keep having discomfort after you finish your antibiotics, tell your healthcare provider.