STIs : Non-specific urethritis (NSU)
What is it and how is it passed on?
Non-specific urethritis (NSU) is an inflammation of the urethra (the tube where urine comes out) that affects men only. It may also be called non-gonococcal urethritis.
It is usually caused by vaginal, oral or anal sex with a partner who already has a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It's called 'non-specific' as a variety of infections can cause it.
Other causes include:
You can't catch NSU from kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels, cups, plates or cutlery, or from toilet seats or swimming pools.
- other genital or urinary tract infections
- damage to the delicate urethra through vigorous sex or masturbation
- a urine or bladder infection, although this is rare in young men
Signs and symptoms
NSU has three main symptoms:
Testing and treatment
- white/cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis, which is often more obvious first thing in the morning
- pain, irritation or a burning sensation when passing urine
- wanting to pass urine often
Tests for NSU shouldn't be painful, although they may be uncomfortable. They may include:
It's important not to pass urine for at least four hours - and sometimes overnight - before a urine sample of swab is taken. Your doctor will advise you about this.
- genital examination by a doctor or nurse
- taking swabs from the penis or urethra
- taking a urine sample
NSU is easily treated with antibiotics, although damage to the urethra can take time to heal. Vaginal, oral and anal sex should be avoided until the treatment is completed and the infection has cleared up. To avoid re-infection, any sexual partners should also be treated.
After treatments, a check-up is usually required to ensure the infection has cleared up. Sometimes, a second course of antibiotics is needed.
Cutting down on alcohol during treatment may be helpful as it can irritate the urethra.
What happens if it isn't treated?
If left untreated, NSU can sometimes cause serious health problems, including:
Where to go for help and advice
- inflammation of the testicles, leading to reduced fertility
- occasionally, Reiter's syndrome - inflammation of the joints, urethra and eyes
You can talk to your GP or go to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. Such clinics diagnose and treat all STIs for free. They're completely confidential and your GP won't be informed without your consent. You can go to any clinic in the country for advice or treatment.
How to avoid STIs
1. Before you have sex, talk to your partner about how to protect yourselves.
2. A male or female condom can provide protection from most STIs if used correctly every time you have sex.
3. Become familiar with how to use condoms and have a supply ready.
4. Seek advice straight away if you think you've been at risk.
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