Chlamydial urethritis in men is an infection of the urethra caused by the sexually transmitted disease (STD) chlamydia. The urethra carries urine from the bladder, through the penis, to the outside of the body.
This condition often causes swelling and inflammation of the urethra, accompanied by penile discharge. But as with many STDs, men often don’t show symptoms. An infected person and all recent and current sexual partners must receive treatment for STDs to prevent reinfection.
The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis causes chlamydial urethritis. It’s spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Both men and women can develop this common type of infection. According to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), there are about 3 million new cases of chlamydia per year, and many of those cases are in adolescents and young adults.
People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners are more likely to contract chlamydial urethritis than those who practice safe sex and are in a monogamous relationship. Sexually active people under the age of 24 are also more likely to contract STDs in general, including chlamydia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Men with chlamydial urethritis may not show symptoms at all, or they may only start to show symptoms several weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms of chlamydia and the related inflammation of the urethra usually occur between one and three weeks after exposure to Chlamydia trachomatis.
The signs of infection include:
- pain or burning during urination
- itching, redness, or swelling of the head of the penis or urethral opening
- discharge from the penis, which is usually yellowish or beige
- painful, swollen testicles
The urethra becomes inflamed during infection, making urinating more difficult. Discomfort in the penis is generally limited to the tip, where the urethra ends.
Symptoms of chlamydial urethritis in men can mimic the symptoms of gonorrhea. Gonorrhea and chlamydia infections often occur at the same time, and infected persons may require treatment for both STDs.
Your doctor will perform a series of lab tests to diagnose chlamydial urethritis. You’ll be asked to give a urine sample, which will be tested for the presence of the chlamydia organism.
You may also need a urethral discharge culture, or swab test, to rule out gonorrhea. Gonorrhea symptoms often look like the symptoms of chlamydia, and it’s possible to have both at the same time. A technician will swab the head of your penis with alcohol or another sterile agent. Next, the technician or your doctor will insert a cotton swab into your urethra at the tip of your penis. The discharge or fluids collected will be analyzed to determine the cause of your infection.
If you’re diagnosed with chlamydial urethritis, you and any of your sexual partners must be treated with antibiotics. It’s important for your partners to receive treatment, even if they don’t show signs of an infection. This helps prevent reinfection. Without proper treatment, sexual partners may continue to pass the bacteria back and forth.
Several antibiotics can eliminate chlamydial urethritis, including:
In most cases, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for five to 10 days. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that a higher dose (1 gram) of azithromycin taken once may also be an effective treatment.
Most infections will resolve within a week or two. It’s important that you abstain from sexual activity for at least seven days after completing a course of antibiotics to prevent reinfection.
It’s important to seek treatment for STDs as soon as symptoms occur. Untreated infections can spread and lead to more serious health complications in men, including:
- infection and pain near the testicles
- infection of the prostate gland
- infertility or sterility
- stricture, which is a narrowing of the urethra due to inflammation or infection
Men often don’t show signs of infection right away. Regular screenings for STDs can diagnose STDs even if no symptoms are present. This is especially important when changing partners or if you’ve multiple sexual partners.
Men who are sexually active can prevent STDs with safe sex practices. Male and female condoms can greatly reduce the spread of infection. Make sure you use a new condom for each sexual encounter. Regular screenings for STDs, including HIV, are important for anyone who is sexually active, and especially for those with multiple partners.