Urethritis is a form of urinary tract infection where the urethra becomes inflamed. It can be uncomfortable and painful, but it is relatively easy to treat.
The urethra is a part of the urinary system that leads the urine from the bladder and out of the body. It is thus the first part of the urinary system, and can easily be infected by bacteria that can cause an inflammation.
What’s on this page?
Both men and women can be affected by urethritis and there is often an underlying cause of the infection. For example, sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea and chlamydia can be the cause of the symptoms. Urethritis is not in itself categorized as a sexually transmitted disease (STI), but in many cases, it is indeed transmitted through sexual intercourse.
What causes urethritis?
The condition is caused by an inflammation of the urethra, which is an infection of the first stage of the urinary system. The infection can be caused by a bacterial disorder. There are mainly three types of bacteria that cause problems in the urinary tract1:
- Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacteria that also causes the STI chlamydia. The majority of cases of urethritis are caused by this bacteria.
- Gonococci, which is a bacteria that is the root of the STI gonorrhoea. In the last years, this condition has been on a steady rise, which is why we also can see an increase in urethritis caused by the bacteria.
- E. coli bacteria, that, amongst other places, can be found in faeces. Especially women are affected by this bacteria as a cause of urethritis since bacteria from the rectum more easily can end up in the area than what they would in men.
It doesn’t have to be bacteria that causes the infection. Herpes can also be the root of the problem, even if herpes is a viral infection. If no specific reason for the urethritis is found, it is often referred to as non-specific urethritis or non-gonococcal urethritis2
For women, it could also be caused by an irritation of the mucus of the urethra. The irritation can arise from sexual intercourse. Other types of irritation can lead to an inflammatory condition in both men and women.
What are the symptoms?
Urethritis can give you different symptoms depending on what set of genitals you have and what bacteria that causes your problems. The most commons symptoms are:
- Painful urination
- Difficulty to urinate
- Pain, discomfort and itchiness even when not urinating
- Pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Discharge from penis or vagina
- For men, there can be blood in the urine or sperm
The symptoms can depend on other root causes other than the urethritis, so because of that, it is important to thoroughly control what is causing your problems.
Not everyone will experience symptoms even if they have an infection in the urethra. It is also important to point out that many that are affected by this condition did not get it from an STI like chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
Urethritis in men and women: Does it affect genders differently?
Since many cases of urethritis are caused by an STI, most people are affected by the condition due to unprotected sex. If you have sexual intercourse with someone who has chlamydia or gonorrhoea, the risk of you contracting these diseases is relatively high. These STIs can evolve into an inflammation in the urethra.
STIs are the most common reason for men to contract the infection for men. It especially affects young men between the ages of 20 to 34 years of age.
You can also catch the condition without it being caused by an STI. Most women get the inflammation when bacteria from the rectum reached other parts of the vaginal area.
Urinary Tract Infection: The difference between cystitis and urethritis
Symptoms of urethritis and cystitis can be very similar. Both conditions belong to the category of urinary tract infection (UTI). There is a difference between the inflammations and what causes the infection.
Cystitis is caused by uncontrolled diseases, in comparison to urethritis. It can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, for example, if you have anal sex and then vaginal sex, which could make bacteria from the rectum to the cause an inflammation of the bladder.
Is this condition dangerous?
An infection in the urinary tract is not dangerous, but it can develop to have serious complications. If the inflammation is spread to the bladder, you can contract cystitis which later can develop into pyelitis if not treated. This can lead to serious complications.
On top of this, underlying conditions like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can in the worst case scenario lead to sterility. This means that you cannot reproduce, which is a serious problem for many people.
If you believe that you are suffering from the symptoms of this condition, it is important to get treatment as fast as possible to avoid further complications. Right treatment means that you will get rid of the irritating symptoms and that you can no longer infect other people.
Depending on what is the cause of the inflammation, there are different treatments. Often, an treatment of antibiotics is enough for the infection to disappear. Since STIs can be the root cause of the infection, it is important to be properly tested and getting the right diagnosis.
A doctor or gynaecologist can examine you for diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes, and they can investigate whether the infection is caused by these. It is not always the case that there is an exact underlying reason, which can be the case if there is an irritation of the mucus. It is, in either case, a good idea to rule out all the potential underlying causes.
Chlamydia as a cause of urethritis
If a chlamydia infection is the reason you experience urethritis is will be treated with antibiotics that fight chlamydia bacteria. Some commonly prescribed drugs are azithromycin, which comes in a single dose, and doxycycline, a treatment lasting for approximately a week. Independently of which medicine you end up taking, you will not be contagious one week after you commence the treatment.
If there is an infection of gonorrhoea that is causing your urethritis, you will need a combination of different antibiotics. Since the gonococci bacteria have been resistant against penicillin multiple types of antibiotics must be used. This combination can be bought through a so-called gonorrhoea treatment pack.
Herpes as a cause
If herpes if the culprit of your condition, the treatment is a bit more complicated. Herpes virus cannot be erased, but the flare can be treated with different medications, for example, Famvir.
There are many ways that you can prevent getting an inflammation in your urethra. Since it is oftentimes transmitted through sexual intercourse, one solution can be to restrain from having sex. This is not a realistic solution for most people, so you can instead you can follow these suggestions:
- Use a condom or other barrier protection, or make sure that you and your partner are tested and negative for STIs
- Never wipe from the rectum forward when passing stool. Doing so will move bacteria to areas that can be infected
- Go to the bathroom after you have had sexual intercourse, this flushes the urethra
- Drink a lot of water
- Avoid using perfumes or similar products on your crotch
- See your GP if you experience any symptoms at all in your genital area
If you found out that you have a sexually transmitted disease, you should always let your sexual partner/s know, so that they can get tested and be treated if they have the same disease.