The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the urinary passage for the removal of urine in the body. The urethra exists in both men and women and performs the same basic functions in both genders.
Interestingly, the female urethra is shorter than its male counterpart. It runs from the bladder to the front of the vagina. In men, the urethra extends to the penis, making it prone to infections. When the urethra becomes infected, it gets inflamed, a condition known as urethritis.
Urethritis can be caused by bacterial infection and the causative bacteria can be contracted and transmitted through sexual intercourse. The two kinds of bacteria that are commonly responsible for urethritis are Neisseria gonorrhea and Chlamydia trachomatis. They are the bacteria that trigger gonorrhea and chlamydia, respectively.
The urethritis brought about by N. gonorrhea is called gonococcal urethritis while that caused by C. trachomatis and other lesser indicted bacteria is known as non-gonococcal urethritis. Herpes simplex virus can also cause urethritis.
The inflammation of the urethra in women is a type of urethral lesion. This is as a result of the swelling and scarring of the urethra with progressive infection. The symptoms include:
- Pain during urination
- Difficulty in urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Discharge from the urethral opening
- Abdominal pain
- Urge to urinate frequently or urgently
Many women are asymptomatic to urethritis. It is somewhat difficult to be able to say that a woman is suffering from urethritis if she presents these symptoms alone. Testing for urethritis needs to be conducted in order to be sure it is urethritis.
If left untreated in women, the bacteria that gave rise to urethritis can spread to the female reproductive organs. When these organs are infected, they become inflamed, scarred, blocked, or damaged. In the long run, this results in infertility in the woman. The bladder and the cervix are other parts that could be affected if urethritis is not treated.
Statistically, men commonly suffer from urethritis more than women because a man’s urethra carries both urine and semen to the penis. Urethritis in men causes the urethra to be swollen and inflamed. Discharge from the penis is also typical of urethritis.
Symptoms in men include:
- Painful urination
- Yellowish discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation during urination
- Urge to urinate often or urgently
- Blood in urine or semen
- Swelling in the penis
- Painful sexual intercourse
Untreated urethritis can spread causing complications to arise. The complications include the infection of the testicles and the infection of the prostate gland. The urethra could get narrowed due to the inflammation. Urethritis also accounts for infertility in men.
Risk population for urethritis
Certain groups of men and women are given to suffering from urethritis as a result of their lifestyles. They are:
- Persons who have unprotected sex
- Men who have sex with men
- Persons who have a history of sexually transmitted diseases
- Sexually active persons
Test for urethritis
- Physical examination
In men, the presence of penile discharge is checked for. In women, though rarely, a urethral discharge is looked for.
- Nasopharyngeal/Rectal swab
Men who have sex with men are usually screened for the presence of gonorrhea which causes gonococcal urethritis, using their nasopharyngeal swabs or rectal swabs.
- STD testing
Persons who have urethritis should undergo tests for STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, genital herpes, etc.
- Urethral/Vaginal Swab
This is taken from women to check for an STD suspected by a doctor to be causing urethritis.
Treatment for urethritis
Antibiotics are the drugs of choice for the treatment of urethritis. Even though the symptoms of urethritis can get milder over time, antibiotics should be given to prevent complications and the spread of the disease from an infected person.
For non-gonococcal urethritis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the combined therapy of Ceftriaxone and Azithromycin. Other antibiotics for non-gonococcal urethritis are:
For urethritis caused by gonorrhea (gonococcal urethritis) without complications, the CDC recommends Azithromycin or Doxycycline.
Prevention of urethritis
It is necessary to have yourself tested for STDs routinely if you are sexually active. It is important your partner/s also get tested. This helps in the early detection and treatment of the STD that is liable to cause urethritis.
Complete the treatment for urethritis, and get tested to ascertain that you are free from the disease before you start having sex again. Also, maintain a monogamous relationship and use condoms consistently when you have more than one sexual partner.
Your health is your most treasured wealth, ever. Take care of it!!