Urethral Syndrome

Urethral syndrome is a condition that leads to urethra irritation. The cause isn’t known, but may include hormonal imbalances, urethra injury or STIs. Symptoms include frequent, painful and difficult urination. Treatments include medications and relaxation techniques. You may have urethral syndrome your entire life, but symptoms often decrease over time.

Overview

What is urethral syndrome?

Urethral syndrome is a condition that causes irritation of your urethra. This is the tube connecting your bladder to the outside of your body. Your urethra carries urine (pee) and semen (sperm) away from your body.

Other names for urethral syndrome include:

  • Abacterial cystitis.
  • Frequency-dysuria syndrome.
  • Symptomatic abacteriuria.
  • Urethral pain syndrome (UPS).

Urethral syndrome symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. They may look the same as symptoms seen in urinary tract infections and urethritis. But unlike these conditions, viral and bacterial infections don’t cause urethral syndrome. Several factors can result in urethral syndrome, which can make it difficult for healthcare providers to identify the exact cause.

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Who might have urethral syndrome?

People of any age, race or gender might have urethral syndrome. But people assigned female at birth (AFAB) have this condition more commonly than people assigned male at birth (AMAB), and it affects those ages 30 to 50 the most. Healthcare providers diagnose urethral syndrome most often in white women and white people AFAB.

How common is urethral syndrome?

Up to 25% of patients who see a healthcare provider with symptoms in their lower urinary tract may have urethral syndrome.

What is the difference between urethral syndrome and urethritis?

Bacterial or viral infections cause urethritis, including nongonococcal urethritis in men. But urethral syndrome doesn’t come from an infection. If an infection isn’t causing your symptoms, your provider may suspect urethral syndrome.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes urethral syndrome?

Researchers don’t know what causes urethral syndrome. But they do know that bacterial and viral infections don’t cause it.

They suspect that several factors may contribute to urethral syndrome, including:

An injury to the urethra can come from:

  • Rough sexual intercourse.
  • Using a diaphragm.
  • Using a tampon.
  • Bike riding.

Several things may cause additional irritation to the urethra:

  • Caffeine.
  • Alcoholic drinks.
  • Spicy foods.
  • Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Condoms and contraceptive gels, including lubrication with spermicide.
  • Scented products, such as bubble baths, perfumes and soaps.
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What are the symptoms of urethral syndrome?

The symptoms of urethral syndrome may include:

In men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), symptoms of urethral syndrome may also include:

In people assigned female at birth (AFAB), symptoms of urethral syndrome may also include discomfort in your vulvar area (vulvodynia or vulvitis).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is urethral syndrome diagnosed?

A healthcare provider who specializes in urinary system problems (urologist) can help diagnose urethral syndrome. Your provider will first ask about your symptoms and do a physical examination. They will need to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as:

If your provider suspects urethral syndrome, they may take a urine (pee) sample. They will do a:

  • Urinalysis, to screen for common health conditions, including urinary tract infections.
  • Urine culture, to look for bacteria or yeast.

If you have blood in your urine, your provider may suggest tests including:

  • CT scan, to see your upper urinary tract.
  • Cystoscopy, to view the inside of your urethra or bladder.

Your provider may also suggest other tests such as:

They may also suggest imaging studies such as:

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Management and Treatment

How is urethral syndrome treated?

Treatments for urethral syndrome focus on reducing your discomfort and the frequency of urination. Your provider may treat urethral syndrome with:

  • Biofeedback, to help your pelvis to relax.
  • Medications, to improve blood flow and relieve pain.
  • Meditation or hypnotherapy, to reduce stress.
  • Surgery, to widen your urethra.

How do I take care of myself with urethral syndrome?

Lifestyle changes can help to reduce irritation of your urethra. These changes may include:

  • Avoiding highly acidic foods.
  • Doing activities such as tai chi and yoga to help control and relax muscles.
  • Eating plenty of dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
  • Increasing the amount of water you drink (hydration).
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Using unscented detergents and soaps.
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Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of urethral syndrome?

You can reduce your risk of urethral syndrome by:

  • Avoiding scented soaps and detergents.
  • Getting tested and treated promptly for STIs.
  • Urinating as soon as you can after sexual intercourse.
  • Using protection during sexual intercourse.
  • Wearing pants that aren’t too tight-fitting.
  • Wearing underwear made from cotton instead of nylon.
  • Wiping your genitals from front to back after urinating.

Are there other conditions that put me at higher risk of urethral syndrome?

Other conditions that may put you at higher risk of urethral syndrome include:

  • Bacterial infections of your bladders or kidneys.
  • Giving birth without having an incision between your vagina and anus (episiotomy).
  • STIs.
  • Taking immunosuppressants.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have urethral syndrome?

You may have urethral syndrome throughout your life. But symptoms may decrease over time, especially with proper treatment and lifestyle changes.

Living With

How do I take care of myself with urethral syndrome?

Urethral syndrome can affect your sense of well-being. Symptoms can cause anxiety, depression and stress. Talking to your provider or a therapist about your concerns can help provide symptom relief and prevent the discomfort from returning.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your provider if your symptoms get worse. They will test you for other issues such as UTIs.

Also, see your provider if you don’t notice any results from your treatments after some time. They’ll be able to suggest other treatments that may help.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Urethral syndrome is a condition that causes irritation of your urethra. Healthcare providers don’t know the exact cause. The main symptoms of urethral syndrome include blood in your urine, difficulty urinating, frequent urination and painful urination. Providers first diagnose urethral syndrome by ruling out other conditions. Treatment focuses on medications to relieve discomfort as well as techniques to help you relax. Lifestyle changes can also help. Though urethral syndrome can be a lifelong condition, symptoms may decrease over time.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/13/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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