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Am Fam Physician. 2010;81(7):879-880

See related article on urethritis

What is urethritis?

Urethritis (YOO-ree-THRI-tis) is an inflammation of the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis then out of the body (see drawing).

Who gets it?

Urethritis is most common in men 15 to 35 years of age. It can be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhea (gon-oh-REE-ah) and chlamydia (klah-MID-ee-ah). It can also be caused by irritation. In most cases, an exact cause is not found.

How do I know if I have it?

You may have pain while you urinate or have a discharge from your penis. The end of your penis may itch or swell. If you have these symptoms, you should see your doctor. He or she will examine you and test any discharge from your penis. You may also need to give a urine sample.

How is it treated?

Urethritis is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics. In most cases, this will cure your symptoms.

Your doctor may wait to treat you until your test results are back. If you have an infection, your doctor may want to do blood tests for other STIs, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis (SIF-ih-lis), and hepatitis B. Your doctor will tell you how to contact your sexual partners so they can be treated.

What can I expect?

You should avoid sex for one week after starting the antibiotics and until after your sexual partners have also been treated.

You should follow your doctor's directions exactly when taking antibiotics. This may mean avoiding certain foods and drinks, like dairy products and alcohol, or not taking certain medicines or vitamins. Make sure to finish all of your pills even if you feel okay, unless your doctor tells you to stop.

If you do not have an infection, your doctor may tell you to avoid other things that can irritate the urethra. These include:

  • Spicy foods

  • Perfumed soaps, body washes, lotions, or lubricants

  • Overly vigorous or frequent masturbation or sex.

You should also drink plenty of water. Tell your doctor if you do not feel better within one week after finishing treatment.

How can I prevent urethritis?

Practice safe sex by:

  • Using condoms correctly every time you have sex

  • Not exchanging money or drugs for sex

  • Not having sex after drinking alcohol or taking drugs

  • Limiting your number of sexual partners.

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