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Women experiencing a burning sensation in their urethra coupled with the frequent urge to pee but with low urinary output, along with an uncomfortable pressure within the bladder will probably have a diagnosis in mind well before they get to the doctor. Urinary Tract Infections are, after all, incredibly common. One in three women will have had at least one UTI before age 24, while over half will go through a minimum of one during their lifetime and UTIs are considered the single most common bacterial infection out there.
What if you present with all the tell-tale symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection, but no pathogens are found in your urine culture? It could be Female Urethral Syndrome. FUS comes with all the same signs, but does not appear to be caused by any bacteria or viruses.
What Is Female Urethral Syndrome?
What exactly is Female Urethral Syndrome? That's a hard question to answer because FUS is, in many ways, defined by what it is not. FUS is not your ordinary UTI, caused by known pathogens that are detected in a urine culture, most frequently bacteria. It does come with the same symptoms, however: an uncomfortable pressure in the bladder, increased frequency of urination, pain while urinating, pain during sex, and a generalized burning sensation in the urethra. Women with FUS can also suffer from a more general pelvic pain, and can have swelling and tenderness throughout the groin area.
The symptoms are all too real, however, and can be chronic or acute. The lack of a detectable infection leaves medical professionals to speculate about the possible causes of Female Urethral Syndrome. FUS could be the result of an infection after all, just one that we don't have the means to detect as of yet. It may also be the cause of a wide range of external factors, and not necessarily the same ones in all cases. Exposure to radiation, chemotherapy, or other chemicals could be responsible for FUS. Products such as soaps, perfumes, sanitary products, or contraceptive products including condoms could also be to blame. Physical injuries to the groin area, rough sex, and even dietary irritants such as caffeine are other possibilities.
These glands are called the Skene glands and the paraurethral glands, and they are present on both sides of the urethra in women. While problems with these glands are thought to be rare, they happen. FUS could fall into this category, and Gittes and Nakamura (see link in links box below) have gone so far as to describe the syndrome as a "female prostatitis".