Urethritis, Nonspecific

Nonspecific urethritis (NSU) is an inflammation * or infection of the urethra (yoo-REE-thra) in which the cause is not defined. The urethra is the tube through which urine passes from the bladder to the outside of the body.


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Sexually transmitted diseases

Urinary tract

What Is Nonspecific Urethritis?

Nonspecific urethritis (yoo-re-THRY-tis) is a common urinary tract infection. It is also called nongonococcal (non-gon-o-KOK-al) urethritis. "Nongonococcal" means that the urethritis is not caused by gonococcus, the bacterium (bak-TEE-ree-um) that causes gonorrhea (gon-o-REE-a), a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, nonspecific or nongono-coccal urethritis also is considered to be an STD. It may be caused by Chlamydia (kla-MID-ee-a), yeast * , herpesvirus * , intestinal bacteria * , or any of a number of other microorganisms. Although classified as an STD, nonspecific urethritis is not always caused by sexual activity. For example, it can be caused by an infection from intestinal bacteria that enters the urethra from skin around the anus * , or it may result from insertion of an object into the urethra. NSU is more common in females than in males, but it occurs in people of both sexes and of all ages.

What Are the Symptoms of NSU?

A common symptom of NSU is a tingling or burning sensation while urinating. Sometimes, there is also a slight, usually clear discharge. This discharge may be present only in the morning, before urination.

* inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's reaction to irritation, infection, or injury that often involves swelling, pain, redness, and warmth.

* yeast is a general term describing single-celled fungi that reproduce by budding.

* herpesvirus (HER-peez-VY-rus) is a virus of the family Herpesviridae (HER-peez-VY-ri-dee), which includes the viruses that cause chickenpox, shingles, genital herpes, and cold sores.

* bacteria (bak-TEER-ee-a) are single-celled microorganisms, which typically reproduce by cell division. Some, but not all, types of bacteria can cause disease in humans.

* anus (AY-nus) is the opening at the end of the digestive system, through which waste is discharged.

Signs and symptoms of NSU usually appear 2 to 3 weeks after infection. Sometimes, symptoms are very mild or absent, especially in females.

How Is NSU Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis of NSU is made by taking urine and discharge samples and conducting laboratory tests to identify the infecting organism. In many instances, however, the cause cannot be determined.

NSU is treated with antibiotics * . It is extremely important to finish the prescribed amount of these medications. Otherwise, the infecting organisms may not all be killed, and the disease can come back.

Usually, treatment of NSU lasts 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, sexual activity must be avoided to keep from spreading the infection. Relapses are common, and follow-up visits may be needed to confirm a cure.

What Are the Possible Complications from NSU?

Sometimes, treatment of NSU is unsuccessful, especially if the cause is not found. Possible complications may include chronic * urethritis and cystitis (sis-TY-tis), a bladder infection. The infection sometimes may reach the kidneys * .

How Can NSU Be Prevented?

General measures that can decrease the likelihood of NSU include frequent bathing. Especially good hygiene is needed in the genital area. Bubble baths should be avoided, because they can irritate the urethra.

With regard to sexual transmission, as for any STD, not having sex is the only sure means of prevention. The risk of getting NSU is lowered by limiting the number of one's sexual partners. Condoms can decrease the rate of transmitting the infection.

NSU and other urinary tract infections are not contagious * in people who are not sexually active.

* antibiotics (an-ty-by-OT-iks) are drugs that kill bacteria.

* chronic (KRON-ik) means continuing for a long period of time.

* kidneys are the pair of organs that filter blood and get rid of waste products and excess water as urine.

* contagious (kon-TAY-jes) means transmittable from one person to another.

See also
Bacterial Infections
Chlamydial Infections
Fungal Infections
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Urinary Tract Infection
Viral Infections


The Nemours Foundation has information concerning NSU and other urinary tract infections at its website.

The Wardenburg Health Center has information on NSU at its website.

The Health Library has information on NSU at its website.

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