What is Urethral Syndrome?

The urethral syndrome describes a group of symptoms that occur when the urethra is irritated.

The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.

Urethral syndrome may be confused with urethral stricture.

In this article, we discuss what urethral syndrome is along with its risk factors and symptoms. We have also compiled diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods for you.

What is Urethral Syndrome?

Urethral syndrome, also known as urethral pain syndrome, is a term for a group of symptoms that can occur when the urethra becomes irritated.

The urethra is the thin muscular tube that runs between the bladder and the outside of the body. In men, the urethra also carries semen from the testicles during ejaculation.

When the urethra is irritated, it swells and the tube narrows, which can make it difficult for a person to urinate.

The symptoms of urethral syndrome are the same as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and urethritis, which can affect the urethra. However, bacterial and viral infections are not the cause of urethral syndrome.

Urethral syndrome can occur in both women and men.

Urethral Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms of urethral syndrome may include:

  • needing to urinate more often than usual
  • pain when urinating
  • sudden urge to urinate
  • The bladder does not feel empty after urinating
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • lower back pain
  • pain in genitals
  • pain during sex
  • Men with urethral syndrome may also experience symptoms related to sexual function, such as discharge from their penis and swollen testicles, pain when ejaculating, and blood in their semen.

Urethral Syndrome Risk Factors

Doctors do not fully understand the cause of urethral syndrome. However, certain health conditions and environmental factors can increase a person’s risk of developing urethral syndrome.

Some possible risk factors for urethral syndrome include:

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can increase the risk of developing urethral syndrome. STIs that can cause urethral syndrome are gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma genitalium.

foods

Substances in certain foods can enter the urine and irritate the urinary tract. Foods that may increase the risk of urethral syndrome in some people:

  • Foods and drinks containing caffeine
  • hot or spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • irritants

Chemicals in soaps, personal hygiene products, and contraceptives may contain chemicals that irritate the urethra in some people. These may include:

  • Scented soaps, body washes and bubble baths
  • Feminine hygiene sprays or touches
  • sanitary products
  • birth control pills
  • Condom
  • Urinary tract infection

People can sometimes develop urethral syndrome after having a recent UTI. This is because the urethra can be very sensitive as it heals from an infection.

Sexual intercourse

Rough sexual activity can damage the urethra, especially in women. In such cases, the inflammation that leads to the urethral syndrome is part of the natural healing process.

Other Risk Factors

Other risk factors for urethral syndrome may include:

  • having sex without a condom
  • with a history of STIs
  • Bacterial infections in the bladder or kidneys
  • taking drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Structural problems such as narrow urethra

Women who have given birth may also be at higher risk of urethral syndrome. Giving birth without an episiotomy can also increase a woman’s risk of developing urethral syndrome when the doctor makes an incision in the tissue between the vagina and anus.

Urethral Syndrome Diagnosis

A doctor, usually a specialist called a urologist or urogynecologist, diagnoses the urethral syndrome. Diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms are often similar to other conditions such as UTI, urethritis, or cystitis.

Urologists usually only diagnose a person with urethral syndrome after ruling out other possible causes.

In most cases, the urologist will request a urine sample. They will also ask the person questions about their symptoms, risk factors, and medical history. The urologist may also perform a physical examination.

Urethral Syndrome Treatment

Treatment depends on the suspected cause of the condition.

For people with an STI, UTI, or other infection, a urologist may recommend medications to treat the infection. If the infection is bacterial, they may recommend antibiotic therapy.

A urologist may also prescribe medications to relieve pain and inflammation.

If the urologist suspects that the cause is an irritating soap or hygiene product, they may recommend that the person try stopping or changing products. Further treatment may not be necessary.

Some urologists also recommend dietary changes to help treat urethral syndrome.

In a 2002 study, researchers asked women with urethral syndrome to follow a strict diet for 12 weeks that did not allow coffee, alcohol, or spicy foods. Of the 675 women who participated, 89 percent reported that their symptoms were completely gone by the end of the trial.

Urethral Syndrome Prevention

It is not always possible to prevent urethral syndrome. However, a person can reduce their risk of developing this condition by:

  • using condoms during sex
  • Using fragrance-free body wash, bubble bath, and sanitary products
  • Limiting or reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • avoiding hot or spicy foods

Urethral Syndrome Summary

Urethral syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that affect the urethra, the thin muscular tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body. These symptoms may include urination difficulties and pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen.

Doctors do not fully understand the cause of urethral syndrome. However, risk factors for urethral syndrome can include infections and irritants from certain food and hygiene products.

Treatment for urethral syndrome usually involves treating underlying conditions or avoiding food and hygiene products that can irritate the urethra.

Medical News Today, What to know about urethral syndrome, 2019

References:

Diseases characterized of urethritis and cervicitis. (2015). https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/urethritis-and-cervicitis.htm

Female urethral syndrome. (n.d.). https://www.fmcpaware.org/df/female-urethral-syndrome

Gurel, H., et al. (1999). Urethral syndrome and associated risk factors related to obstetrics and gynecology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301211598001535

Kaur, H., & Arunkalaivanan, AS (2007). Urethral pain syndrome and its management [Abstract]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17425813

Krisiloff, M., (2002). A dietary cure for prostatitis and the urethral syndrome. https://journals.lww.com/infectdis/fulltext/2002/03000/a_dietary_cure_for_prostatitis_and_the_urethral.2.aspx

Phillip, H., et al. (2014). Enigma of urethral pain syndrome: Why are there so many ascribed etiologies and therapeutic approaches? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/iju.12396

Price, HP (2017). Non-antibiotic options for recurrent urinary tract infections in women. https://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5193/rr

The urinary tract system. (n.d.). https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/the-urinary-tract-system

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