Urethritis is any inflammation of the urethra, most commonly a result of bacteria causing a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Viruses are a less likely cause. Those that can cause urethritis are most often the herpes simplex virus, and the cytomegalovirus.
There are other ways of ending up with urethritis. Some soaps or body powders, and spermicides can do it, as can vaginal infections. Tight clothes, sexual activity, even prolonged bike-riding can trigger a bout of urethritis.
What makes women so vulnerable to such seemingly trivial hazards?
Our biology plays a role. A female urethra (the tube from the bladder to outside the body) is shorter than a male's. It opens just above the vagina and not far from the anus. This area can be fertile for bacteria.
It's a short trip from the vagina or the anus to the relatively unprotected urethra. Sometimes all it takes is friction in this area, and a case of urethritis is on the scene.
Some contraceptives and tampons may encourage multiplication of certain bacteria which then enter the urethra. Some gynecological disorders alter the flora of the vagina, causing urethritis.
Catheterization can lead to posttraumatic urethritis, especially from latex catheters rather than silicone catheters.
For older women, the urethra and bladder change after menopause due to a drop in estrogen (female sex hormone). Their tissues are more fragile, becoming thinner and drier.
Less common bacterial causes of urethritis are syphilis and mycobacterial infection. Viral infections like herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus are also uncommon, as are streptococcal, and meningococcal infections.
Urination may be frequent and urgent, yet yielding little in the way of results. Pelvic or abdominal pain, and pain or itching upon urinating, may be experienced.
There may be a vaginal discharge, or a urethral discharge which is green, yellow, brown or blood-tinged. Intercourse may be painful. Menses (menstrual period) may make symptoms more intense. Fever and chills are not common, but may be present.
Urethritis is a condition to take seriously.