Urethritis in Men

Urethritis occurs when the urethra is inflamed. The urethra is the tube that runs from the bladder through the penis. The urethra can become swollen and cause burning pain when you urinate. Symptoms may include itching or tingling of the penis or a pus discharge from the penis. You may also have pain with sex and masturbation. Some men may not have symptoms.

What causes urethritis?

Front view of penis and scrotum. Cross section of bladder is visible just above penis with urethra going from bladder through penis to the outside. Urethra is inflamed.

Urethritis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Such an infection can lead to conditions such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Urethritis can also be caused by injury or sensitivity or allergy to chemicals in lotions and other products.

How is urethritis diagnosed?

Your health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms and health history. You may also have one or more of the following tests:

  • Urine test to take samples of urine and have them checked for problems.

  • Blood test to take a sample of blood and have it checked for problems.

  • Urethral discharge to take a sample of fluid from inside the urethra. A cotton swab is inserted into the opening of the penis and into the urethra.

  • Cystoscopy to allow the health care provider to look for problems in the urinary tract. The test uses a thin, flexible telescope called a cystoscope with a light and camera attached. The scope is inserted into the urethra.

How is urethritis treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of urethritis. If it’s due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics (medications that fight infection) will be given. Your health care provider can tell you more about your treatment options. In the meantime, your symptoms can be treated. To relieve pain and swelling, anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may be given. Untreated, symptoms may get worse. Also, scar tissue can form in the urethra, causing it to narrow.

When to seek medical care 

Call the health care provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher 

  • Blood in the urine or semen

  • Burning pain with urination

  • Increased urge to urinate

  • Discharge from the penis

  • Itching, tenderness, or swelling in the penis or groin

  • Pain during sex or masturbation

Preventing STDs

When it comes to sex, it’s important to take care and be safe. Any sexual contact with the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth can spread an STD. The only sure way to prevent STDs is abstinence (not having sex). But there are ways to make sex safer. Use a latex condom each time you have sex. And talk to your partner about STDs before you have sex.