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What is the urethra?

The urethra is the tube that leads urine from the bladder outside the body.

The female urethra is shorter than the male urethra and is only for drainage of urine. The male urethra passes through the penis and is not only for urine drainage, but also for semen.

Pain in the urethra can be acute or chronic, constant or intermittent, dull or sharp.

What causes pain?

The main conditions that can cause pain in the urethra are:

  • Urethritis - inflammation of the urethra. Females have a greater risk of developing urethritis because their urethra is shorter than in males.
  • Urinary Tract Infections - the second most common type of infection, after respiratory infections. They can occur in any part of the urinary tract, kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease - inflammation of the female reproductive organs.
  • Vulvovaginitis - inflammation of the vulva and vagina.
  • Postmenopausal atrophic vaginitis - due to decreased estrogen levels, vaginal walls become thinner after menopause.
  • Urethral stricture - narrowing of the urethra, usually in males. Urinary flow can be slightly or severely restricted.
  • Benign enlargement of the prostate - the prostate gland becomes enlarged. It is a common condition, usually affecting males over the age of 45.
  • Prostatitis - inflammation of the prostate gland.
  • Prostate cancer
  • Orchitis - inflammation of the testicles caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It usually affects one testicle but both testicles can be inflamed in some cases.
  • Epididymitis - the inflammation of the epididymis. It is more common among young men and usually caused by a nonsexual infection like prostatitis or urinary tract infections. The epididymis is the tube on the back side of the testicle. Its function is to store and carry sperm.
  • Kidney stones - they are created in the kidneys, but they can be found in any part of the urinary tract. The cause of the kidney stones varies according to the type of the stone.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases - like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
  • Urethral syndrome - also called asymptomatic bacteriuria. Symptoms of urinary tract infection persist, but urine tests show no bacteria or very few. It occurs more often among women than men. The cause of the symptoms cannot usually be found.

Some irritants can also cause temporary irritation and pain in the urethra like: condoms, contraceptive gels, sexual activity, bubble baths, feminine hygiene products, scented or harsh soaps, etc.

What other symptoms might you have?

Other symptoms that can accompany urethral pain are:

  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Inability to urinate
  • Incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • Unusual discharge
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Itching
  • Fever, chills
  • Feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen that doesn't go away after urinating

Diagnosing the Pain

As soon as you have urethral pain accompanied by any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek medical treatment.

The usual diagnostic tests ordered by your doctor are:

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Urinoculture
  • Ultrasound of the kidney and bladder
  • CT-Scan
  • Cystoscopy
  • Urodynamics
  • Cystourethrogram
  • Tests for sexually transmitted diseases

Treatment

Treatment of the pain in the urethra will depend on the diagnosis.

Infections are treated with antibiotics. Antispasmodics are used to decrease bladder muscle spasms, and alpha blocking drugs are used to relax smooth muscle tone. Pain relievers are used to relieve the pain.

If an irritant causes the pain, you should avoid it in the future.

By drinking fluids regularly, you will contribute to solving the problem.

How can I prevent urethral pain?

To prevent urethral pain, you can:

  • Drink a lot of fluids
  • Urinate frequently
  • Urinate before and after sex
  • Practice safe sex
  • Treat sexual infections well, and make sure you and your partner don't have any sexually transmitted diseases
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Wipe from front to back
  • Avoid tight clothes
  • Have good lubrication in the genital area while having sexual intercourse
  • Avoid bicycling for long periods
  • Avoid using tampons that contain deodorants and perfumes
  • Avoid perfumed bath products

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