Information about Urethritis

Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra, the thin tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder. Often caused by a bacterial infection, urethritis may produce distinctly different symptoms in men and women. Infectious agents (including chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpesvirus) transmitted during sexual activity may cause urethritis in both men and women, but women may not exhibit any symptoms.

In symptomatic women, urethritis may be difficult to distinguish from a bladder infection; however, treatment is similar in either case. Urethritis may also be caused by nonsexually transmitted infections; such infections are most common among women.

What Causes Urethritis?

  • In women, urethritis often results from an infection caused by bacteria that normally inhabit the anal area with no ill effect. If these bacteria enter the urinary tract, urethritis may ensue.
  • Urethritis may result from sexual transmission of the herpesvirus or the bacteria that cause chlamydia or gonorrhea.
  • Prolonged use of a urinary catheter increases the risk of urethritis.
  • Sexual activity may bruise the urethra in women and promote inflammation.
  • Some soaps, bath oils, and vaginal douches may irritate the urethra.

Symptoms of Urethritis

  • Burning on urination
  • Frequent urination with only small amounts of urine passed on each occasion
  • Anal or oral infections
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Bloody discharge from the penis
  • Blood in the urine
  • Yellowish discharge from the urethra
  • Itching or irritation around the opening of the penis
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful sexual intercourse in women

Urethritis Prevention

  • Sexual abstinence is the best form of prevention.
  • Use condoms during sexual intercourse to help decrease the risk of infection.
  • Have sex with only one uninfected partner.
  • Good hygiene is recommended, especially prior to sexual activity. Use mild, unscented soap. Showers are less likely to promote urethritis than baths.
  • Use water-based spermicides during vaginal sex.
  • To flush bacteria from the vaginal tract, women should drink some water prior to sexual intercourse and urinate within 15 minutes afterward; if necessary, they should use a water-soluble lubricant (not petroleum jelly) to decrease the risk of bruising during intercourse.
  • After using the bathroom, women should wipe from front to back to avoid spreading fecal bacteria to the urethra.
  • Women should not douche unless otherwise instructed by a doctor.
  • People who have recurrent episodes of urethritis should drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day and should avoid caffeine and alcohol, which may irritate the bladder.
  • If you are sexually active have regular check-ups.

Urethritis Diagnosis

  • Patient history and physical examination
  • Microscopic examination and culture of urethral discharge and urine
  • Chlamydia culture
  • Gonorrhea culture

How to Treat Urethritis

  • Antibiotics, prescribed to treat bacterial infections, should be taken for the full term as directed; stopping the medication too early may result in a more serious and more difficult-to-treat rebound infection. For sexually transmitted diseases, only one partner may exhibit symptoms, but it is likely that the symptomless partner is also infected. Therefore, both partners need to be treated to prevent a self-perpetuating cycle of reinfection.
  • Analgesics may be administered to relieve pain.
  • Cranberry juice can increase the acidity of urine and enhance the effectiveness of some medications for urinary tract infections.

When to Call a Doctor

  • Call a doctor if you or your partner experiences painful, frequent urination, or if you notice an abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 12 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 16 Mar 2015