Originally published on: May 13th, 2021. Last modified on September 1st, 2021

What is Urethritis?

Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra which may be caused by an infection, known as a lower UTI. The urethra is the tube from the bladder through which urine flows out of the body. Infections are generally caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract via the urethra and in most cases can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics. Symptoms are generally similar to those for Cystitis and it is advisable to visit your GP if you think you may have an infection.

Urethritis is one of the most common reasons for men to visit their local sexual health clinic with around 80,000 cases of urethritis diagnosed in men visiting clinics every year.

When the cause of urethritis is unidentifiable, the term non-specific urethritis (NSU) is used. A NSU can have a number of possible causes, but it is estimated that the STI chlamydia is responsible for nearly half of all male cases.

Symptoms of Urethritis (NSU)

NSU can cause different symptoms in men and women.

Symptoms of NSU in Men can Include:


  • a white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
  • a burning or painful sensation when you urinate
  • the tip of your penis feeling irritated and sore
  • a frequent need to urinate

Symptoms of NSU in Women:

NSU tends to cause no noticeable symptoms in women unless the infection manages to spread to other parts of the female reproductive system, such as the womb or fallopian tubes. If the infection does spread, a woman may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a serious health condition that can cause persistent pelvic pain. Repeated episodes of PID are associated with an increased risk of infertility.

What causes Urethritis (NSU)?


The sexually transmitted infection (STI) chlamydia is thought to be responsible for almost half of all cases of NSU in men. In women, about 4 out of 10 cases of NSU may be caused by chlamydia.

Bacteria that usually live harmlessly in the throat, mouth or rectum can cause NSU if they manage to find their way into the urethra.

Non-specific urethritis will usually be treated with antibiotics, and it may take 14-21 days before the symptoms disappear completely.

Further Information

If you think you may have urethritis or other UTI, it is most important to make an appointment to see your doctor straight away. You may also wish to seek advice from your local continence clinic. The continence clinics are run by the NHS and you don’t always need to be referred to a clinic by your GP, as some clinics will allow you to book an appointment yourself.

For more information about UTI’s see Urinary Tract Infections

To find your nearest continence clinic use our Healthcare Professional Finder.