Nonspecific Urethritis

Nonspecific urethritis (NSU) is an inflammation * or infection of the urethra (yoo-REE-thra), more often diagnosed in men, 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.

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 infection (STI). However, nonspecific or nongonococcal urethritis is also considered to be an STI. It is most often caused by Chlamydia (kla-MID-ee-a), but can also be caused by other germs such as yeast * , herpesvirus * , intestinal bacteria * , or any of a number of other microorganisms. Although classified as an STI, 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. Although NSU is possible in either men or women and can affect individuals of all ages, this condition most commonly affects men.

What Are the Symptoms of Nonspecific Urethritis?

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.

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

How Is Nonspecific Urethritis Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis of NSU is made by taking urine and discharge samples and conducting laboratory tests to identify the infecting organism. A direct swab of the urethra is usually performed and tested in an effort to demonstrate the causative 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.

NSU is treated with antibiotics; several regimens are available, and treatment length depends on the specific antibiotic selected by the doctor. 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.

The organs of the urinary tract.

The organs of the urinary tract.
llustration by Frank Forney. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

What Are the Complications of Nonspecific Urethritis?

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 Nonspecific Urethritis 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 STI, 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.

See also Bacterial Infections • Chlamydial Infections • Fungal Infections • Gonorrhea • Infection • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Overview • Urinary Tract Infections • Viral Infections



American Sexual Health Association. “NGU.” (accessed May 12, 2016).

Better Health Channel. “Non-specific Urethritis.” State Government Victoria Department of Health. (accessed October 24, 2015).

Cleveland Clinic. “Nongonococcal Urethritis (NGU) in Men.” (accessed May 12, 2016).

Play Safe. “Nonspecific Urethritis.” New South Wales Government. (accessed October 24, 2015).


American Sexual Health Association. PO Box 13827, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. Telephone: 919-361-8400. Website: (accessed May 12, 2016).

Family Planning Association. 23-28 Penn Street, London, N1 5DL, UK. Telephone: 44 020 7608 5240. Website: (accessed August 11, 2015).

McKinley Health Center. 1109 S. Lincoln Ave., Urbana, IL 61801. Telephone: 217-333-2701. Website: (accessed August 13, 2015).

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

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

* herpesvirus (her-peez-VY-rus) is a member of a family of viruses that can store themselves permanently in the body. The family includes varicella virus, EpsteinBarr virus, and herpes simplex virus.

* 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. Many types can live in the body without causing harm.

* anus (A-nus) is the opening at the end of the digestive system, through which waste leaves the body.

* contagious (kon-TAY-jus) means transmittable from one person to another, usually referring to an infection.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)