Non-specific urethritis

Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra  the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. It is usually caused by an infection.

The term non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) is used when the condition is not caused by gonorrhoea – sexually transmitted infection (STI).

NGU is sometimes referred to as non-specific urethritis (NSU) when no cause can be found.

In women, NGU rarely has any symptoms. Symptoms in men include:

  • a painful or burning sensation when urinating
  • the tip of the penis feeling irritated and sore
  • a white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis

Read more about the symptoms of NGU.

If you think you have NGU, you should visit your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic. These clinics have access to specialist diagnostic equipment that your GP may not have.

It is easy to find sexual health services in your area. Sexual health services are free and available to everyone, regardless of age, sex, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.

Why does NGU happen?

NGU can have a number of possible causes, including irritation to the urethra and STIs. Chlamydia causes up to 43 out of 100 cases of NGU.

There are many cases of NGU where no infection is found. If no cause is found, you will still be offered treatment for possible infection. This is also the case if inflammation is caused by an object such as a catheter in the urethra, or by using creams and soaps around the genitals.

Read more about the causes of NGU.

Who is affected?

Urethritis is the most common condition diagnosed and treated among men in GUM clinics or sexual health clinics in the UK.

There are around 80,000 men diagnosed with urethritis every year. It is more difficult to diagnose urethritis in women because it may not cause as many symptoms.

NGU is usually diagnosed after urine and swab tests.

Read more about diagnosing NGU.

Treating NGU

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat NGU. You may be given them before you get your test results.

Antibiotics are also used in cases where NGU is thought to have been caused by an object, cream or soap.

In most cases, only a short course of treatment is needed and symptoms clear up after about two weeks.

The most common antibiotics used are azithromycin and doxycycline (Vibramycin-D).

It is important that past and current sexual partners are also treated, to prevent any infection spreading to others.

After treatment has been completed, and symptoms have disappeared, it should be safe to start having sex again.

Read more about treating NGU.

Preventing NGU

As NGU is usually caused by an STI, practising safer sex is the best way to reduce the chances of it developing.

Safer sex involves using barrier contraception, such as condoms, and having regular checks at sexual health clinics or GUMs.

Read more about preventing NGU.


NGU can have some complications – for example, the condition can keep coming back.

Other complications include:

  • reactive arthritis – when the immune system starts attacking healthy tissue, which can lead to joint pain and conjunctivitis
  • epididymo-orchitis – inflammation of the testicles

Women often have no symptoms of NGU. However, if it's caused by chlamydia and left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Repeated episodes of PID are associated with an increased risk of infertility.

Read more about the complications of NGU

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