Urethritis is a very common condition involving the inflammation of the urethra. The urethra is the thin, narrow, fibromuscular tubular structure situated at the lower aperture of the bladder and runs across the pelvic and urogenital diaphragms. It allows the passage of urine from the ureter to the outside of the body via an opening called the external urethral orifice. While in females the sole function of the urethra is for urination, in males, the urethra is also connected to the reproductive organs of ductus deferens for the purpose of ejaculation of sperm. Although urethritis presents with symptoms similar to urinary tract infections, the two conditions are different, with urethritis typified by swelling, soreness in the urethra and UTI entailing an infection in the urinary tract.
In most instances, the chief cause of urethritis, which is characterised by pain and irritation while urinating, is a bacterial infection. Urethritis affects both men and women but is more common in females due to their urethra being shorter in length than those of males, which makes it easier for bacteria and other microbes to invade the tubular organ. When urethritis symptoms are reported at once to the doctor, they can be usually treated with a course of antibiotics. However, if left unattended, the infection can spread from the urethra to the neighbouring organs of the bladder, ureter, kidneys, resulting in grave consequences including kidney failure. Thus, it is essential to understand the causes, symptoms of urethritis, to ensure proper diagnosis and timely treatment, as well as to prevent any serious complications of urethral inflammation.
Types Of Urethritis
Depending on which causative organism i.e. bacterial specimen triggers urethritis, it is categorised into two types - gonococcal urethritis and non-gonococcal urethritis.
Gonococcal urethritis refers to the inflammatory condition induced by the same type of bacteria – Neisseria gonorrhoeae that causes gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
When urethritis occurs as a result of bacterial infection from microbes other than Neisseria gonorrhoea, it is considered non-gonococcal. Generally, chlamydia, another STI, gives rise to this type of urethral inflammation, but sometimes, other STIs such as syphilis or herpes may also be the cause.
Often, a bacterial infection is the main reason why urethritis occurs. This can arise from Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis and Mycoplasma genitalium pathogenic bacteria, which are responsible for sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
In seldom cases, viruses trigger urethritis, with the most common species being the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Urethritis happens more frequently in women, but it affects both males and females. The typical indications experienced by men and women tend to vary a bit and consist of:
- Abnormal discharge from the vagina
- Aching in the pelvis and abdomen
- Repeated urge to pass urine
- Tenderness and itching in the vaginal region
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Stomach aches
- Mild fever, headaches, chills
- The flow of blood while urinating or ejecting semen
- Pain and discomfort during ejaculation
- Leakage from the penis
- Burning sensation while expelling urine
- Swollen lymph nodes in the vicinities of the groin
- Itching tendency and redness in the penis
If the symptoms of urethritis are recognised and conveyed to the medical professional at once, it can be completely treated without any harmful consequences to other internal organs. However, if the signs of urethral inflammation are not reported to the physician immediately, then it leads to infections and serious health complications in the surrounding organs of the urinary tract, bladder and kidneys.
Additionally, the STIs that cause urethritis in women may even harm the reproductive system, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that could lead to infertility problems. This also heightens the risk of ectopic pregnancies in the infected women later on. In men, these STIs, besides triggering urethritis, could also induce pain, infection, inflammation in the prostate gland, bladder and testicles.
Diagnosis And Treatment
The healthcare provider enquires about the symptoms experienced by the patient. They also check the genital regions in men and women, to observe any possible signs of inflammation, soreness, irregular discharge, pain, a tenderness that could indicate an STI.
Furthermore, a sample of the patient’s urine, as well as a swab of tissue form the urethra or vaginal area is collected, to examine it for the presence of pathogenic microbes. For particular STIs like syphilis, a blood test is also conducted. These diagnostic assays help to determine the exact cause of urethritis and ensure pertinent treatment of the condition in the affected men and women.
Treatment for urethritis generally comprises prescription antibiotics given by the medical professional, to combat the bacterial infection in the urethra. If the cause is identified to be a viral infection, then antiviral medications are given. Besides, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also advised to be taken, to relieve pain and discomfort endured by men and women with urethritis and subsequently guarantee optimal recovery of the patient. In instances wherein STIs give rise to urethritis in men and women, safe sex practices including the use of condoms are recommended, to prevent frequent and recurring infection and inflammation in the urethra.