What is urethritis?

Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra – the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. It is usually caused by an infection but sometimes no cause can be found.

The condition is most commonly caused by a sexually transmitted infection. The term non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) is used when the condition is not caused by the STI gonorrhoea. It is most commonly caused by another STI called chlamydia but other sexually transmitted germs can cause the infection.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of NGU in men can include:

  • A white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
  • A burning or painful sensation when you urinate (pee)
  • The tip of your penis feeling irritated and sore
  • A frequent need to urinate

NGU tends to cause no noticeable symptoms in women, unless the infection spreads to other parts of the female reproductive system, such as the womb or fallopian tubes (which connect the ovaries to the womb). If the infection does spread, a woman may develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

How do you catch it?

Chlamydia is the most common cause for NGU.

A number of other germs can cause NGU if they get into the urethra (tube that carries urine from the bladder outside of the body). This can occur during  vaginal, oral and/or anal sex.

Other germs that can cause NGU include:

  • Trichomonas vaginalis, which is an STI caused by a tiny parasite
  • Other bacteria – such as mycoplasma
  • A urinary tract infection
  • The herpes simplex virus, which can also cause cold sores and genital herpes
  • Adenoviruses, which normally live in the throat
  • Germs causing cystitis

How do you prevent it?

As NGU is usually caused by an STI. Practising safer sex is the best way to reduce the chances of it developing. Safer sex involves using a condoms, limiting your number of partners and having regular checks at sexual health clinics or GUM clinics.

How do you get tested?

NGU can be diagnosed by a swab test and/or a urine test. Either test can be used, although both may be carried out to ensure the diagnosis is correct.

It is recommended that you are also tested for gonorrhoea and chlamydia at the same time as NGU. These are two STIs that often cause urethritis.

What treatment is available?

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat NGU. You may be given these before you get your test results.

In most cases, only a short course of treatment is needed and symptoms clear up after about two weeks. It is important to complete the whole course of antibiotics, and to avoid having sexual contact during this time until the infection clears.

It is important that you tell all of your sexual partners from the last six months so that they can also get tested and treated if necessary. This will help to stop the infection recurring or being spread to others.

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