Non-specific urethritis
Health Advice
To Get Notified about our offers!



Main Menu
Non-specific urethritis Content Supplied by NHS Choices
Non-gonococcal 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 - a 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.

Diagnosing non-gonococcal urethritis

Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) is usually diagnosed after tests have been carried out at a specialist clinic.

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's 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.


Two tests can diagnose NGU - a swab test and a urine test. Either test can be used, although both may be carried out to ensure the diagnosis is correct.

It is recommended that you are also tested for gonorrhoea and chlamydia at the same time as NGU. These are two sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that often cause urethritis.

You may also be offered tests for other STIs, including HIV. It is up to you whether to have these or not, but a test for all infections is recommended. You can discuss this with healthcare professionals at the clinic if you wish.

Swab test

A swab test involves taking a small sample of fluid from your urethra, which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The sample can then be examined under a microscope to look for evidence of inflammation or bacteria known to cause NGU.

The sample is taken using a swab, which is like a small cotton bud with a plastic loop at the end. The swab is not painful, but can feel a little uncomfortable for a few seconds.

Urine test

You will be asked to provide a urine sample, which will be tested for bacteria known to cause NGU, such as chlamydia.

You will be asked not to urinate for around two hours before providing a urine sample, because this can help make the test results more reliable.


Clinics that have microscope facilities will be able to give you some results the same day. Other clinics may need to send the samples to a laboratory for testing - in which case, the test results may not be available for a week or two.

Healthcare professionals at the clinic will tell you how and when you will get your test results, and they will also arrange your treatment.

Complications of non-gonococcal urethritis

Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) can have serious complications, although these are rare.

Persistent urethritis

The most common complication of NGU is persistent or recurrent urethritis. This is when you still have urethritis 1 to 3 months after being treated for NGU. This affects 1 or 2 men in every 10 who are treated for NGU, and can affect women too.

If you still have symptoms two weeks after starting a course of antibiotics, you should return to the genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic.

Reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis is an uncommon complication of NGU, estimated to affect less than 1 in 100 people with the condition.

Reactive arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking healthy tissue for an unknown reason, rather than the bacteria responsible for NGU.

This can cause:

  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes)
  • recurring urethritis

Read more about reactive arthritis.


Epididymo-orchitis is a possible complication of NGU in men. It is a combination of epididymitis and orchitis:

  • epididymitis is inflammation of the epididymis - a long coiled tube in the testicles that helps store and transport sperm
  • orchitis is inflammation of the testicles

Epididymo-orchitis affects fewer than 1 in 100 men with NGU.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

In women, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can be a result of NSU if left untreated. PID is a serious condition that can increase the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy.

Preventing non-gonococcal urethritis

As most cases of non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) are caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the best way to protect yourself is to practise safer sex.

Using a condom when you have sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex, can help prevent you getting or passing on an STI.

Safer sex

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure you are having safer sex, such as:

  • keeping the number of sexual partners to a minimum
  • using a barrier method of contraception, such as condoms, every time you have vaginal or anal sex
  • covering the penis with a condom or the female genitals with a latex or plastic square (dam) if you have oral sex
  • avoid sharing sex toys; if you do share them, make sure you wash or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them

Read more about how to use condoms.

You and your partner(s) should have regular check-ups for STIs. If you are not in a stable relationship and are sexually active, you should have a check-up every year. You should have tests more often than this if you have unprotected sex with a new partner, or if you notice any symptoms that worry you.

Testing can be done at your GP surgery, or at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic.

You can find sexual health services in your area.

Further help and advice

If you are worried about immediate sexual problems, read about needing help now.

Alternatively, you can call:

  • Sexual health line on 0300 123 7123 for confidential information and advice on sexual health
  • Worth Talking About on 0300 123 29 30 for advice on contraception, sexual health and relationships (Mon-Fri 2pm-8pm, Sat-Sun 2pm-4pm)
  • Brook on 0808 802 1234 for confidential sexual health information and advice for young people under 25 (Mon-fri 11am-3pm)

You can also read and download leaflets about all STIs from the FPA website, or read about sexual health for general information.

Other causes

Not all cases of NGU are caused by an STI. It can also be the result of irritation caused by creams, lotions and objects.

To prevent NGU developing in this way, you should avoid putting anything into the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body), and stop using creams that cause discomfort around your genitals.