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Urethritis: Most Common 8 Symptoms and Causes

Urethritis is a condition in which the urethra or the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside becomes irritated and inflamed. Also, semen passes through the male urethra. Typically, urethritis causes pain while urinating and an increased urge to urinate. Usually, the primary cause of urethritis is the infection caused by bacteria. Urethritis is not the same condition as UTI (urinary tract infection). Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra. UTI is an infection of the urinary tract.


These conditions may have similar symptoms, but they require different methods of treatment depending on the underlying cause. Urethritis can affect people of all ages. Both males and females can develop urethritis. But, females have a greater chance of developing urethritis compared to males. This is partly because the men’s urethra (which is the length of the penis) is much longer than the woman’s urethra. Typically, the woman’s urethra is one and a half inches long, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urethra [1,2].

Urethritis – Symptoms

The symptoms of urethritis are different in men and women. Here are symptoms of urethritis in males [3]:

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Presence of blood in the semen or urine
  • An itching or burning near the opening of the penis

Here are some symptoms of urethritis in females:

  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina may be also present along with the urinary symptoms
  • More frequent urge to urinate
  • Burning or irritation at the urethral opening
  • Discomfort during urination

People who have urethritis may also not have any noticeable symptoms. This is especially true for females. In men, the symptoms of urethritis may not be apparent if the urethritis developed as a result of Chlamydia, or occasionally trichomoniasis infection. This is a reason why you should make a test to see if you may have been infected with a sexually transmitted infection.


Usually, most cases of urethritis are the result of an infection from either a bacteria or a virus [1]. The most common cause of urethritis is bacteria. The same bacteria which can cause bladder and kidney infections can also infect the lining of the urethra. Bacteria which are naturally found in the genital area can also cause urethritis if they enter the urinary tract. Some of the most common bacteria that can cause urethritis to include:

  • Mycoplasma genitalium
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae

We know that pathogens are biological agents which can cause illnesses and the same pathogens which cause STIs can also cause urethritis. These include the bacteria that cause Chlamydia and gonorrhea and the parasite that causes trichomoniasis. Also, there are some viruses that could lead to the development of urethritis. These viruses include CMV (cytomegalovirus), HSV (herpes simplex virus), and HPV (human papillomavirus).


There are different types of urethritis, which are classified by the cause of the inflammation – gonococcal urethritis and nongonococcal urethritis. The gonococcal urethritis is caused by the same bacterium which causes STI gonorrhea. It is noticed that about 20% of people with urethritis suffer from gonococcal urethritis. The nongonococcal urethritis is caused by other infections that are not gonorrhea.

The most common cause for nongonococcal urethritis is Chlamydia [4], with other STIs also being a probable culprit. But, it is possible for irritation unrelated to STIs to happen. This can include injuries, such as from a catheter or other kinds of genital trauma. Many patients have either one type of urethritis or the other, but it is possible to have different causes of urethritis at once. This is especially true for females.


Usually, medications can treat urethritis quickly. If the infection goes untreated, then the effects can be lasting and quite serious. The infection can spread to other parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys, and ureters. These infections can be painful. They can be treated with more intensive rounds of antibiotics, but they can cause damage to the organs if they are left untreated for too long [5].


[1] Loyola University Health System. New findings on bacteria in female bladders: Study could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of urinary tract infections. Science Daily. 2018. Retrieved from

[2] Odoki M, Aliero AA, Tibyangye J, et al. Prevalence of bacterial urinary tract infections and associated factors among patients attending hospitals in Bushenyi District, Uganda. International Journal of Microbiology. 2019.

[3] Chen W, Connor S, Gunathilake M. Men at risk of gonococcal urethritis: a case-control study in a Darwin sexual health clinic. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2019.

[4] American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). NGU: Fast facts. Retrieved from

[5] Falchi A, Lasserre A, Gallay A, et al. A survey of primary care physician practices in antibiotic prescribing for the treatment of uncomplicated male gonoccocal urethritis. BMC Family Practice. 2011;12. 

Elene Jordanova
Elene Jordanova
Elena Jordanova is a medical researcher from Macedonia with specialization in Internal Medicine


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