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Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatment of urethritis.

Urethritis means soreness and swelling (inflammation) of the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) but can be caused by STIs.

Signs and symptoms of urethritis

Urethritis can occur in anyone. It is one of the most common conditions that people with a penis are diagnosed and treated for in sexual health clinics in the UK.

People with a penis are likely to experience:

  • A white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Pain, burning or stinging when weeing
  • The tip of the penis feeling irritated or sore
  • A frequent need to wee

These symptoms may begin a few weeks after an infection, depending on what has caused it.

People with a vagina do not usually experience symptoms of urethritis unless it spreads to the womb or fallopian tubes. If this happens, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is serious and if symptoms develop, may include:

  • Pain around the lower part of your stomach
  • Discomfort or pain deep inside you during sex
  • Bleeding between periods and after sex
  • Pain when you wee
  • Heavy or painful periods
  • Unusual vaginal discharge

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is recommended that you get medical help.

Causes of urethritis

Urethritis is most commonly caused by an infection, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Infections that can cause urethritis include:

  • Chlamydia (43% of cases of urethritis in men are caused by the bacteria that causes chlamydia)
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Trichomoniasis
  • A urinary tract infection
  • The herpes simplex virus (which can cause cold sores and genital herpes)
  • A virus called adenovirus which usually causes a sore throat or eye infection

It is also possible for urethritis to not be caused by an infection. For example, it may be caused by:

  • Irritation from using products such as soap, deodorant or spermicide near the urethra
  • Damage caused by vigorous sex or masturbation
  • Squeezing or fiddling with the urethra
  • Damage caused by inserting an object into the urethra (such as a catheter in hospital)

Testing for urethritis

Urethritis can be diagnosed after either a swab or urine test. You may also be tested for gonorrhoea and chlamydia at the same time as these are common causes of urethritis.

The swab looks like a small cotton bud, which is wiped over the urethra. Taking the swab may be slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful.

Please be aware that you can be tested and treated for urethritis at your nearest GP surgery or at GUM or sexual health clinics. Find your nearest clinic using our find a service tool. Brook services do not offer testing or treatment for urethritis but if we think you may have urethritis, we will always do our best to advise you on where you can go for further help.

Treatment of urethritis

Urethritis is generally treated with a short course of antibiotics. This will kill the bacteria that caused the infection. It your urethritis is caused by gonorrhoea then it may be treated differently.

Although not all cases of urethritis are caused by an STI, it is possible to pass it on during sex so it is recommended that you don’t have sex until it has cleared up.


It is important that you tell any recent sexual partners (in the last six months) if you are being treated for an STI, so that they go for treatment too.

Some clinics may also offer to contact your partner using what’s called a ‘contact slip’. This is to warn them they may have been exposed and to recommend they get tested but it doesn’t mention your name.

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