Urethritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. It is also responsible for carrying semen in males, in whom the tube is significantly longer. Urethritis is a common condition that presents with similar symptoms to urinary tract infections, although it is different and often requires different treatment.

Common Symptoms in Men

The most common symptom of urethritis in men is a painful, burning sensation when passing urine. It can also cause an irritated, painful, or itchy sensation at the tip of the penis. If the condition becomes more severe, the inflammation can lead to a discharge, and bleeding the man may notice in his urine or semen. Men who have developed urethritis as the result of a sexually transmitted infection, however, may not notice any symptoms at all.

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Common Symptoms in Women

Some women will not experience any symptoms during an episode of urethritis. However, it is common for affected women to have a strong and frequent urge to pass urine, the act of which is often painful or accompanied by a burning sensation. Urethritis can cause discomfort or itching at the opening of the urethra. There may also be unusual discharge from the vagina, depending on the underlying cause. The latter is more likely if the inflammation is due to a sexually transmitted infection.

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Causes of Urethritis

A viral or bacterial infection usually causes urethritis. One of the most common causes is fecal bacteria such as e-coli, but sexually transmitted infections can also trigger the condition. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can all lead to inflammation of the urethra. As these STIs do not always have symptoms, the person may not know they have urethritis caused by a sexually transmitted infection unless they attend a sexual health screening. Occasionally, injury to the urethra, such as during the insertion of a catheter, can lead to the condition.

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Gonococcal vs. Nongonococcal Urethritis

There are two main types of urethritis. Gonococcal urethritis is any inflammation of the urethra caused by gonorrhea. Any other infection, bacterial or viral, is classified as nongonococcal urethritis. Occasionally, it is possible for a person to have both types at the same time.

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If the doctor suspects urethritis, he or she will ask the patient for symptoms and medical history, and may also examine the genital area for discharge or other signs of infection. Any discharge may be swabbed and tested in the lab. Doctors can also make a diagnosis with a urine sample. Blood in the sample is a sign of infection. Technicians can also test the urine for infections.

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Treatment of Urethritis

Prescription medicines are the most common treatment for urethritis. The type of medicine depends on the specific infection causing the inflammation. If tests show a bacterial infection, antibiotics can help. If the infection is viral, antiviral medication is the first course of action. Although symptoms may improve quickly, it's important to finish the entire course of any prescribed medication.

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If one does not receive prompt treatment, the infection causing urethritis can spread further up the urinary tract to the bladder or kidneys, leading to more serious medical conditions. Severe kidney infections, especially, can cause long-term damage. Untreated sexually transmitted diseases can cause pelvic inflammation, pain, and infertility in women. In men, the infection can spread to the prostate or cause permanent scarring of the urinary tract.

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People can generally avoid urethritis by maintaining good hydration. Drinking plenty of water promotes more frequent urination and helps flush any bacteria out of the urinary tract. Safe sex will help prevent infections caused by STIs. Using a barrier method of contraception keeps these infections from spreading from person to person. Regular sexual health screening also ensures a doctor quickly detects and treats any infections before they cause any complications.

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Risk Factors

Women are at a higher risk of developing urethritis than men because their urethra opening is closer to the rectum. This increases the likelihood of bacteria naturally present in stools reaching the urinary tract and causing inflammation. Frequent unprotected sex, especially with more than one partner, also makes developing the condition more likely because this raises the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

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Home Remedies for Urethritis

Urethritis usually requires prescription medication from a doctor. However, if the individual cannot see a doctor right away, some simple measures can help ease the symptoms. Avoid harsh or scented products when washing the genital area to reduce inflammation. Cut out caffeine, alcohol, and hot chilies to make urinating less painful. People should also continue to drink plenty of water to dilute the urine and reduce burning sensations. Alleviate any pain with anti-inflammatory or analgesic over-the-counter medication.

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