Urethritis affects mainly men and means inflammation of the urethra (the urine and semen passage).
The urethra can be affected by various sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most common causes are infection with gonorrhoea and chlamydia; however, other bacteria or viruses may be involved.
Urethritis can be caught by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom.
What are the symptoms of urethritis?
Sometimes there may be no symptoms, if present they may include discharge (pus or fluid) from the urethra, pain or discomfort passing urine, or an uncomfortable feeling in the urethra.
How serious is urethritis?
Urethritis can often be treated with medication quickly. If it is not treated, however, the effects can be lasting and quite serious. The infection may spread to other parts of the urinary tract, including the ureters, kidneys, and bladder and lead to infertility.
How do I get tested for urethritis?
The best way to find out if you have urethritis is to have a sexual health check. The diagnosis of urethritis is usually only made in men with symptoms, or men who have had sexual contact with someone with gonorrhoea or chlamydia. Tests are best done when you have not passed urine for at least two hours.
A small swab is inserted into the tip of the penis to obtain a sample of fluid—this is then examined under a microscope to check for signs of inflammation.
At the same time, the doctor or nurse will also do specific tests for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
If tests for gonorrhoea and chlamydia are negative then the urethritis is usually called non-specific (or NSU for short). Find a local clinic now.
What is the treatment for urethritis?
If the doctor or nurse confirms you have urethritis or NSU from the microscope test you will be given antibiotics. This may be either a course of tablets over several days, or a single dose—your doctor will advise what is best for you.
The most common cause of urethritis is chlamydia, so sexual partners also need testing and treatment.
Even if your STI check is negative, it is still advisable that your sexual partner(s) get treatment as current tests can occasionally miss chlamydia even when it is the cause of the urethritis or NSU. Read our section on How do I tell a partner?
If there are signs of gonorrhoea at the time of examination then treatment is also given for this as well as treatment for NSU.
The medical information in JUST THE FACTS is based on the STIEF and NZ Sexual Health Society Guidelines for the management of STIs. The New Zealand Ministry of Health supports the use of these clinical guidelines, developed by clinical experts and professional associations to guide clinical care in New Zealand.