Urethral Syndrome
En Español (Spanish Version)

Urethral syndrome is a term used to describe symptoms of urethritis that does not have evidence of a bacterial or viral infection. The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder. Urethritis is an inflammation, infection, or irritation of the urethra. It is most commonly seen in women.

Female Urethra

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Because there is no evidence of infection, the cause of urethral syndrome is often difficult to determine. Possible causes include:

  • Undetected bacterial or viral infection of the urethra
  • Irritation of the urethra, caused by:
    • Radiation exposure
    • Chemotherapy
    • Spermicidal jellies used during sex
    • Bubble baths
    • Irritating soaps
    • Scents or perfumes
    • Injury to the urethra caused by a blow to the pelvic area
    • Sexual intercourse (especially in women)
    • Urinary irritants, such as caffeine and certain foods
  • In women, irritation of the urethra may be caused by:
    • Feminine hygiene sprays or douches
    • Sanitary napkins
    • Contraceptive gels
    • Condoms
Risk Factors
Risk factors for urethral syndrome include:

  • Sex: female
  • Factors that may lead to an undetected infection:
    • Unprotected sex (without use of a condom)
    • History of sexually transmitted diseases
    • Bacterial infection of other parts of the urinary tract ( bladder , kidney )
    • Medications that reduce your ability to fight infections
    • Structural problems, such as narrowing of the urethra
The symptoms of urethral syndrome are similar to those of urethritis. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and/or burning while urinating
  • Difficulty urinating (especially after intercourse)
  • Increase in urinary:
    • Frequency
    • Urgency
    • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling and/or tenderness in the groin
  • Pain during intercourse
  • In men:
    • Discharge from the penis
    • Blood in semen
    • Pain during ejaculation
    • Swollen and/or tender testicles
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It will include a pelvic exam. Urethral syndrome is usually diagnosed when symptoms of urethritis are present without evidence of an infection.

Tests may include:

  • Urine tests or urethral swab tests for lab study
  • Tests for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Cystoscopy and/or urethroscopy
  • Pelvic ultrasound
Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics—given if your doctor thinks urethral syndrome may be due to an undetected infection
  • Anesthetics
    • Phenazopyridine—may be given by your doctor to ease discomfort while urinating
    • Intraurethral lidocaine jelly
  • Antispasmodics to decrease bladder muscle spasm, such as oxybutynin
  • Antidepressants, such as a tricyclic antidepressant to relieve pain
  • Alpha-blocking drugs, such as doxazosin to relax smooth muscle tone
Avoidance of Irritants
Avoid irritants that may cause urethral syndrome. Then, wait and see if your condition improves.

Surgery may be done in cases where narrowing of the urethra is thought to be causing the urethral syndrome.

Measures that may help prevent urethral syndrome include:

  • Avoiding the use of:
    • Spermicidal jellies
    • Bubble baths
    • Irritating soaps
    • Scents or perfumes
    • Feminine hygiene sprays and douches
    • Urinary irritant foods and beverages
  • Practicing safe sex, including using condoms
  • Urinating immediately after sexual intercourse
  • Making sure sexually transmitted diseases are treated quickly and completely for you and your partner
  • Regularly drinking plenty of fluids

National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases

US National Library of Medicine

Canadian Urological Association

The Kidney Foundation of Canada

Costantine E, Zucchi A, et al. Treatment of urethral syndrome: a prospective randomized study with Nd: YAG laser. Urol Int . 2006;76:134-138.

Gittes RF, Nakamura RM. Female urethral syndrome. A female prostatitis? West J Med . 1996;164:435-438.

Last Reviewed September 2013

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