Most people are aware of the possibility of sexually transmitted infections, but if you are experiencing pain during urination, determining exactly what is wrong may be difficult. In addition to STIs, you could be suffering from a condition known as urethritis.
What is Urethritis?
Urethritis is the inflammation of the urethra, the tube responsible for passing urine from the bladder out of the body. This inflammation can come from many different sources including urinary tract infections (UTIs), infectious diseases including sexually transmitted infections, and physical trauma to the urethra. Maintaining multiple sex partners, particularly if you are having unprotected sex, is a significant risk factor in developing urethritis. Since not everyone who has an STI experiences symptoms, it is possible you may become infected without your partner knowing they were capable of passing on an infection.
The prevalence of urethritis in men is much lower due to differences in the structure of the urethra. For men, when an infection such as gonorrhea or chlamydia are responsible, there may be discharge from the urethra, possibly of a yellowish green color. Discharge of this type is less common for women.
Urethritis caused by gonorrhea, known as gonococcal urethritis, is more common in men than in women. The cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and even ovaries are more likely to be the sites gonorrhea will target in women.
The complications of urethritis can vary depending on the cause, but the most common long-term effect of untreated urethritis in men is a narrowing of the urethra, known as urethral stricture. This may increase the chances of developing an infection in the bladder or kidneys. It is even possible that an abscess may form around the urethra, or urethral diverticula could form, which can also host further infection.
Causes of Urethritis
Many different viruses and bacteria that cause sexually transmitted infections are common causes of urethritis. Though these pathogens can live on the skin, when they are introduced to the urethral opening, infection can result. A few of the most common are listed below:
- chlamydia trachomatis
- herpes simplex virus (HSV)
- mycoplasma genitalium
- neisseria gonorrhoeae
- trichomonas vaginalis
Is Urethritis Always Caused by an STD?
There can be many different causes of urethritis, including sexually transmitted diseases or infections. While infections, either viral or bacterial, are certainly possible causes, sexual contact is not required for your urethra to become inflamed. Trauma to the genitals or the placement of a catheter can both result in inflammation of the urethra. For some people, exposure to spermicides can also cause inflammation of the urethra. It is also possible that bacteria or viruses can be introduced to the urethra even if you are not having sex.
Will Urethritis Go Away on its Own?
There are some infections in the body, such as respiratory or sinus infections, that can clear up on their own. Urethritis is not on this list. While it is possible for urethritis to clear up on its own, there is also a possibility your infection could spread to other areas of the urinary or reproductive system. If left long enough, it is even possible that an infection could spread to your bloodstream and result in sepsis, which can be fatal.
The likelihood of death from urethritis is very small, but sexually transmitted infections can cause long term damage to reproductive organs on other tissues if left untreated. Since serious infections such as syphilis and HIV may present with initial symptoms similar to more easily treatable gonorrhea, it is important to find out what is going on.
For women, untreated urethritis carries a danger of long-term pelvic pain and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. For men, it is possible for the prostate to become infected, or for the urethra to narrow due to the development of scar tissue. If you are having pain during urination, seeing unexpected urethral discharge, vaginal discharge for women, or experiencing pain during sex, you should see your healthcare provider immediately.
Properly treating urethritis depends on determining the cause of your inflammation. Many bacterial, viral, and even fungal infections can be easily treated with commonly available drugs. Some infections can be treated with a single dose, though others may require a longer treatment regimen. A few of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics include:
Though it is possible to treat many cases of urethritis, due to the possibility of serious complications, preventing an infection is often your best bet. Thankfully, there are some precautions you can take to prevent urethritis. Human papillomavirus vaccines are available to help protect you from papillomavirus infections. Practicing good sexual health, using protection even during oral sex, and limiting your number of sex partners can all reduce your risk of potential exposure to pathogens that could result in urethritis.
Pain during urination (dysuria) can be caused by several different phenomena. STIs and UTIs are not the only reasons you might be experiencing discomfort during urination or sex, and some of the other potential causes can represent significant health risks. For this reason, it is important to properly diagnose any potential sources of urethritis.
Many times the cause of urethritis can be determined from a urine test. Test results are typically available within a few days. If there is any other form of discharge, your doctor may order further testing to determine what the underlying cause might be.
A urethral swab is sometimes used instead of a regular urine test to provide conclusive evidence of an infection. Your doctor may also recommend a more thorough examination, or other tests if there is suspicion something more serious may be going on.
Urethritis Risk Factors
One of the greatest risk factors for developing urethritis is having a high number of sexual partners. Having sexual intercourse with multiple partners not only opens you up to the possibility of new infections, but it is also possible for reinfection to occur if you continue to have contact with an individual who is not being treated for an infection.
It is also important to remember that it is possible to pass STIs through unprotected oral sex. Though the levels of likelihood of particular infections may vary, it is still possible to pass pathogens that cause urethritis between partners during oral sex when protection is not used.
As mentioned above, STIs are often the cause of urethritis, but there can be other forms of physical trauma or exposure to compounds that can irritate the lining of the urethra. Exposure to spermicidal agents is one example of a family of chemicals that are known to cause irritation for some people.
Getting Care for Urethritis
For many people, there can be barriers to getting the medical care they need, especially when it comes to sexual health. Not having a primary care doctor or feeling embarrassed or scared to get tested can be reasons people avoid seeking medical attention, but these hesitations could mean an infection gets worse and then requires more serious intervention.
Helping people get access to medical care on any schedule is one of the reasons TrustCare maintains multiple locations with long hours to give you the best chance of getting the care you need.