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Urethritis - Another Sexually Transmitted Disease

An Infection of the Sexually Active

By

Updated April 18, 2014

If you are sexually active there is a chance you may have had the infection known as urethritis. And if you have, you are not alone. In fact there are almost 150 million cases of urethritis worldwide each year. What is urethritis, what causes it and how can it be treated?

Where is the Urethra?

To understand what urethritis is, you first have to know something about anatomy -- specifically, the structures of our urinary tract. Our urinary system is comprised of several parts; the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. Here's how it works:

  1. The kidneys make urine as blood filters through them.

  2. The urine produced travels through the ureters and into the bladder where it is stored.

  3. When the bladder is full, the body releases the urine, which then travels via the urethra to the outside of the body.

Simply put, the urethra is the tube through which urine travels from the bladder to the outside of the body. In men, the urethra travels within the penis, with its opening at the tip. In women, the urethra exits the body just above the opening to the vagina.

Male Urinary Tract

Female Urinary Tract

What is Urethritis?

Now we know what the urethra is, but what is urethritis? Simply put, urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. But why does it become inflamed? There are a couple scenarios that result in urethral inflammation.

What Causes Urethritis?

The inflammation of urethritis can be caused in a couple ways.

  • Infectious Urethritis - This type of urethritis is a sexually transmitted infection. It is categorized as gonococcal (GU) or non-gonococcal (NGU). Urethritis that is termed GU, is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the same organism that causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. Urethritis that is classified as NGU is typically caused by the organisms Chlamydia trachomatis or Trichomonas vaginalis. These organisms cause the sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia and trichamonis respectively.

  • Traumatic Urethritis - This type of urethritis is caused by trauma or irritation to the urethra. For instance, certain diagnostic procedures require sterile tubes or probes to be inserted into the urethra. These tubes and probes cause irritation. There are people who are unable to empty their bladder the conventional way. Instead they use a catheter to manually drain the urine from their bladder. The catheter is inserted into the urethra and advance into the bladder. The trauma of the catheter passing through the urethra can cause urethritis.

    Female Bladder Catheter

    Male Bladder Catheter

What Are The Symptoms Of Urethritis?

Depending on the cause of urethritis, there may be many symptoms or no symptoms at all. For instance, most women with urethritis caused by trichamonas will have no symptoms. About 25 percent of people with NGU will also show no symptoms at all. If symptoms do occur, they usually appear sometime between 4 and 14 days after exposure. These symptoms include:

  • urethral discharge that can be milky white, brown, yellow, green or blood tinged; this discharge can be expressed by squeezing the penis
  • pain or burning with urination that's worse during the first trip to the bathroom each day
  • pain and burning is typically localized near the meatus (the point where the urethra exits the body)
  • urethral itching between trips to the bathroom
  • men will complain of a heavy sensation in the scrotum or testicles
  • women complain that urethritis symptoms are most severe during their period
  • if symptoms appear in other parts of the body, it suggests that other infections are resent along with urethritis; these systemic (the entire body) symptoms may include fever, chills, sweats, nausea, or rash

How is Urethritis Treated?

Urethritis will eventually resolve if left untreated. But in an effort to reduce transmission to others, oral antibiotics are prescribed to the person with urethritis and their sexual partner(s). Treatment is also used to prevent spread of the infection from the urethra to other parts of the such as the prostate or the testicles. The treatment of choice is the oral antibiotic, doxycycline. If an allergy to doxycycline exists, other antibiotics can be used.

Precautions Before Infection, During Treatment, and After Treatment

There are precautions to take that will reduce your risk of getting urethritis or the probability of spreading it to someone else. In order to fully recover from urethritis and prevent infecting others, the following rules must be followed.

  • When you begin your antibiotics, your sexual partner(s) should be evaluated and treated also.

  • Even if you are feeling better and the symptoms have disappeared, take your antibiotic as prescribed until it is all gone.

  • Do not have sex until your treatment is completed and your discharge has completely resolved and gone away.

  • Always use condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

  • If symptoms do not go away or they disappear and come back, return to your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

Condoms - The Key To Staying Healthy And Preventing Infection

Sources

  1. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation; "Nongonococcal Urethritis(NGU) in Men"; 2008.

  2. Terris, M.; "Common Problems of the Urethra - Urethritis"; E-Medicine; 3 May 2006.

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