What is urethritis?
Urethritis is a swelling of the tube that carries urine out of your body - also known as the urethra.
It’s usually caused by an infection, but there are other possibilities, so you’ll need to confirm a diagnosis with a GP. When it’s caused by gonorrhoea, the condition is known as gonococcal urethritis, whereas if something else is to blame, it’s called non-gonococcal urethritis.
Our online doctors can provide the diagnosis you need and suggest effective treatment to deal with your symptoms.
Urethritis is much more common in men than women, in part because the male urethra is much longer. It’s the most common male condition treated at sexual health clinics in the UK.
It can affect women, but symptoms can be harder to spot. In fact, women rarely show any symptoms of non-gonococcal urethritis.
As sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a common cause of urethritis, the condition stands a higher chance of affecting people who are sexually active.
Men and women may experience some or all of the following common symptoms of urethritis:
- Burning or pain when weeing
- Needing to wee a lot
- Irritation, discomfort or soreness
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
If your urethritis is caused by an STI, it’s important to be aware that these often don’t have symptoms. This makes it very important to get checked out as soon as possible if you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner.
In severe cases, men may notice blood in their urine or semen as a result of urethritis. If women ignore their symptoms, they may progress to a serious condition known as pelvic inflammatory disorder, which can pose a risk to fertility and future pregnancies.
Read more about the symptoms of urethritis.
Our online doctors can often diagnose your urethritis during your consultation, based on what you tell them about your symptoms.
In some cases, they may arrange for tests to confirm their diagnosis.
The most common tests include:
- Swab test - where a swab sample is taken from your urethra
- Urine test - where you provide a urine sample in the container provided
Find out more about how Push Doctor can diagnose your urethritis here .
It’s thought that around 20% of urethritis cases are caused by gonorrhoea. This is known as gonococcal urethritis.
If it’s caused by some other form of infection, this is known as non-gonococcal urethritis. The condition can also occur if your urethra is injured, or becomes irritated for some reason.
Common causes include:
- Other STIs, such as chlamydia or herpes
- A parasitic infection, such as trichomonas vaginalis, which is passed on through unprotected vaginal sex
- A urinary tract infection (UTI), often caused by kidney stones, a full bladder, using a catheter, or a weak immune system. Pregnancy also increases your likelihood of developing a UTI.
- A virus
- An injury caused during sex or masturbation
- Squeezing the urethra
- Damage caused when taking out or putting in a catheter
- Bathroom products or deodorants
- In women, wiping your bottom from back to front
In some cases, no obvious cause for your urethritis can be found. In this case, your doctor will diagnose you with non-specific urethritis (NSU).
Find out more about the causes of urethritis.
If your urethritis is caused by an infection (particularly an STI), our doctors can prescribe a short course of antibiotics to treat the problem. They’ll write the prescription during your consultation and we’ll arrange for you to collect it from a nearby pharmacy.
When this happens, it’s important that you take your medicine exactly as instructed by the doctor. Stick to the dose they have prescribed and only take it as often as you’re supposed to. If you miss a dose, don’t take a double dose to make up for it, as this could cause side effects.
You should keep taking the full course of medication, even if you start to feel better. This will ensure that the infection is fully out of your system and won’t come back.
Some antibiotics can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The doctor will explain these to you beforehand and ensure you fully understand them before writing a prescription.
If your urethritis has a non-infectious cause, our doctors can advise you on how to avoid that situation from recurring. This will involve changing the factor that causes the injury or irritation, such as changing the bathroom products that you use if they’re causing irritation.
Find out more about treatment for urethritis here.
Urethritis in pregnancy
If your urethritis is a symptom of an STI, then there is a potential risk to your baby. If you’re pregnant or trying for a baby and you notice any symptoms, it’s very important to see a doctor or your midwife as soon as possible.
Contracting an STI during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects, such as conjunctivitis (which could lead to blindness), pneumonia, premature birth, low birth weight and, in the most serious cases, miscarriage or stillbirth.
Leaving your symptoms untreated could also mean the problem progresses to a serious condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease. This can increase your risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the egg is fertilised outside the womb and the foetus can’t survive.
Fortunately, if identified promptly, the STI that’s causing your urethritis can be treated using a short course of antibiotics. Our doctors can prescribe medicine that’s safe for you and your baby.
Find out more about treating urethritis in pregnancy here .
Updated: February 11, 2021