What is it?

Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.  Urethritis may be caused by:

  • Gonorrhea: a bacterium that usually causes symptoms in 2 – 6 days
  • Chlamydia: a bacterium that causes symptoms in 7 – 21 days
  • Non-specific urethritis (NSU): means you have an inflammation of the urethra, but your test results are negative for gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Possible causes for NSU are:
  • “Minor” organisms that can be picked up from a partner’s throat, vagina or anus. These may include mycoplasma, ureaplasma, strep bacteria (from the throat) and vaginal organisms like Trichomonas.  These organisms may also cause symptoms and while the symptoms may clear up on their own it is important to treat these infections as they can cause complications.
  • Non-infectious causes include too much alcohol, spicy foods, reactions to soaps or cosmetics, stress or minor damage from rough sexual activity (including masturbation).

 How are they spread? 

These infections are passed on during condomless oral, anal or vaginal intercourse. You can pass them on even if you have no symptoms.  You can transmit gonorrhea to your eyes via your fingers.  Gonorrhea and Chlamydia cannot survive outside the body, so you cannot pick them up from toilet seats or locker rooms.

What are the symptoms? 

  •  White, yellow/green, or clear discharge
  • Mild to severe burning/ pain while urinating
  • Redness, swelling, itching at the tip of the penis


How is it diagnosed?

If a discharge is present your health care provider will take a sample using a cotton swab and then ask you to provide a urine sample.  The samples will then be sent to a lab for testing.  You should not urinate for one hour before getting tested.

What are the complications?

Gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the testicles that can lead to infertility if left untreated.  Without prompt treatment, gonorrhea can also affect the prostate and can lead to scarring inside the urethra. Chlamydia infection sometimes spreads to the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testis) causing pain, fever, and rarely, sterility.  Rarely, genital Chlamydia infection can cause arthritis.

What is the treatment?

Antibiotics will cure all of the above infections.  Be sure to take all of your medication even though your symptoms appear to clear up since the infection may return and you may infect other partners.


If you tested positive for gonorrhea or Chlamydia, you may be advised to return for a follow-up test after treatment to be sure that the infection has cleared up.  Avoid having intercourse (oral, anal or vaginal) until your partner(s) have been tested and treated.  If your partner(s) are not treated, there is a high risk that you will be re-infected.

If your symptoms clear up and your tests are negative for gonorrhea and Chlamydia, no follow-up is necessary.


Condoms, used properly, will prevent transmission of the organisms that cause urethritis.  Use latex condoms and water-soluble lube only.  If the condom breaks, urinating immediately after having sex and washing your genitals may help reduce the chance of infection.