Urethritis is the inflammation of the urethra – the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. It is usually caused by an infection.
The term non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) is used when the condition is not caused by gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Sometimes, NGU is referred to as non-specific urethritis (NSU) when no cause can be found.
In women, NGU rarely has any symptoms. Symptoms in men include:
- a painful or burning sensation when urinating
- the tip of the penis feeling irritated and sore
- a white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
If you think you have NGU, you should visit your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic. These clinics have access to specialist diagnostic equipment that is probably not readily available to your GP.
Why does non-gonococcal urethritis happen?
NGU can have a number of possible causes, but it is estimated that the STI chlamydia is responsible for nearly half of all male cases.
There are many cases where no infection is found. However, even if no cause is determined, it is still suspected that an infection is present. This is also the case if inflammation is caused by an object, such as a catheter, in the urethra, or the use of creams and soaps around the genitals.
Who is affected?
Urethritis is one of the most common reasons for men to visit their local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic.
There are around 80,000 cases of urethritis diagnosed in men every year. It is more difficult to diagnose urethritis in women because it may not cause as many symptoms.
NGU is usually diagnosed after urine and swab tests.
Treating non-gonococcal urethritis
Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat NGU. You may even be given them before you get your test results.
They are also used in cases where NGU is thought to have been caused by an object, cream or soap.
In most cases, only a short course of treatment is needed and symptoms clear up after about two weeks.
The most common antibiotics used are azithromycin and doxycycline (Vibramycin-D).
It is important that past and current sexual partners are also treated, to prevent any infection spreading to others.
After treatment has been completed, and symptoms have disappeared, it should be safe to start having sex again.
Preventing non-gonococcal urethritis
As NGU is most often caused by an STI, practising safe sex is the best way to reduce the chances of it developing.
Safe sex involves using barrier contraception, such as condoms, and having regular checks at sexual health clinics or GUMs.
NGU can have some complications. For example, the condition can keep coming back in some cases.
Other complications include:
- Reiter’s syndrome, when the immune system starts attacking healthy tissue, which can lead to joint pain and conjunctivitis
- epididymo-orchitis, inflammation of the testicles
Women often have no symptoms of NGU, but if it is caused by chlamydia it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if it is not treated. Repeated episodes of PID are associated with an increased risk of infertility.
This information is sourced from NHS Choices.