Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra (the opening from which urine is passed). The urethra is inside the penis in men (where it also carries semen), and just below the clitoris in women. The urethra is often affected by sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

The symptoms of urethritis are usually discomfort passing urine and discharge from the urethra. 
However, urethral infection may be present with no symptoms at all. Urethritis is diagnosed by either a urine test or by taking a swab from the urethra.


Urethritis occurs as a result of exposure to infections in body fluids during vaginal, oral or anal sex. 

The time from exposure to the onset of symptoms varies from a day to a few weeks.

The most common causes of urethritis are:

  1. Chlamydia
  2. Gonorrhoea
  3. A newly discovered cause, an organism called Mycoplasma genitalium (MG), is thought to behave in a similar fashion to chlamydia.
  4. Non-specific infections

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and MG are easily detectable by laboratory tests. These three infections always require treatment of sexual partners to prevent complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women and to prevent further transmission.

Non-specific urethritis (NSU) is diagnosed when a person has symptoms but tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and MG are negative. 

Other bacteria, yeasts and parasites commonly found in the vagina, mouth or anus may cause NSU in some cases. Viruses such as herpes and adenovirus (a cause of ‘colds’) can also occasionally cause NSU.


Urethritis can usually be treated with a single dose of antibiotic, either orally or by injection, depending on the cause and circumstances. In some instances you may need a longer course of medication.

Symptoms should start improving within a few days, but can take a week or more to resolve completely. It is important to have no sex or 100% protected sex for seven days after treatment. 

If your symptoms do not resolve after 1 week please return to the clinic for further tests and treatment.


This is essential if you are found to have chlamydia, gonorrhoea or MG. If you have NSU, you should discuss with your treating doctor whether your partner/s should be notified. If you have difficulty notifying partners, we can assist while keeping your identity confidential. Go to Let Them Know www.letthemknow.org.au

This fact sheet is designed to provide you with information on Urethritis. It is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor. All clients are strongly advised to check with their doctor about any specific questions or concerns they may have. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the information in this pamphlet is correct at the time of printing.

Last Updated August 2012