Signs and Symptoms of Urethritis

Urethritis refers to inflammation of the urethra (the tube through which urine passes).

Doctor talking to patient in examination room

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How It Spreads

In most cases, it is a sexually transmitted disease that is passed on from an infected person during anal, oral, or vaginal sex. The incubation period is highly variable but is thought to be between one week and one month. Very rarely urethritis can be caused by excessive friction during masturbation or sexual intercourse or an allergic reaction to soap or detergents.

Time Between Infection and Symptoms

Symptoms can happen at the time of infection or many months later. As symptoms can be very mild symptoms may be ignored. Often, men have no symptoms at all. As such a urethritis diagnosis can occur many years into a relationship.

Signs and Symptoms

Here are some signs and symptoms of urethritis:

  • Pain or a burning sensation when you pass urine
  • A white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis or the female urethra, especially noticeable first thing in the morning
  • Itching around the outside of the urethra
  • Frequently feeling you need to pass urine


If you have symptoms, have been in sexual contact with someone who has been diagnosed with urethritis or feel you need a general sexual health check-up, then the tests are simple.

A swab is taken from the tip of the penis and/or a urine test will look for evidence of infection. None of the tests are painful and the results are often available immediately. Please remember that urethritis is a medical problem that needs medical attention. If you start experiencing, symptoms like discharge or burning, antibiotics can help.


Treatment is with antibiotics. A seven-day course or single-dose type antibiotic can be prescribed. It is important to take the full course of medication. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to any antibiotics. Symptoms may persist for a few days after taking the single-dose antibiotic.

Urethritis caused by injury or chemical irritation goes away without treatment once the cause is identified and avoided.

Preventing Transmission

You should not have penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina, mouth, or anus) until you and your partner(s) have been treated. Get a follow-up check to make sure you are clear of infection before you have penetrative sex.


It is advisable if you are sexually active to have regular sexual health check-ups. Using a condom for vaginal, anal, or oral sex is an important way to avoid passing on sexually transmitted diseases.


If you do not treat urethritis, it can cause reduced fertility. Untreated, reactive arthritis may occur,the features of which are inflammation of the joints, eyes, urethra, sometimes with sores on the penis or soles of the feet. Inflammation of the testicles may also occur. It can also increase the chances of passing on HIV infection as people with HIV are more likely to shed the HIV virus when they have urethritis.

Can Infection With Urethritis Recur?

Yes, urethritis can recur. You build up no immunity to this sexually transmitted disease.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Young A, Wray AA. Urethritis. In: StatPearls.

  2. Moi H, Blee K, Horner PJ. Management of non-gonococcal urethritis. BMC Infect Dis. 2015;15:294. doi:10.1186/s12879-015-1043-4

  3. Saunders, J. M., Hart, G., & Estcourt, C. S. (2011). Is asymptomatic non-chlamydial non-gonococcal urethritis associated with significant clinical consequences in men and their sexual partners: a systematic review. International Journal of STD & AIDS, 22(6), 338–341. doi:10.1258/ijsa.2011.010338

  4. Moi H, Blee K, Horner PJ. Management of non-gonococcal urethritisBMC Infect Dis. 2015;15:294. doi:10.1186/s12879-015-1043-4

  5. Harvard Health Publishing. Urethritis.

By Jerry Kennard
 Jerry Kennard, PhD, is a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.