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What is nongonococcal urethritis?

Nongonococcal urethritis is caused by germs usually spread during sexual activity. It's more often diagnosed in men but more serious for women.

Nongonococcal urethritis (NGU) is an infection of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder.

NGU is named as the cause of any infection of the urethra that's not from gonorrhea, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).

A sexually transmitted infection

NGU is mainly caused by sexually transmitted organisms. The sexually transmitted infection (STI) most often responsible for NGU is chlamydia.

NGU usually occurs in men. Women can also get infected with chlamydia and other organisms that cause NGU. But in women, these organisms usually cause trouble with the reproductive system, not with the urethra.

According to ASHA, symptoms of NGU in men include:

  • Painful urination.
  • Discharge from the penis.
  • Itching, irritation or tenderness.

Women with NGU may not have symptoms. However, if symptoms are present they may include:

  • Painful urination.
  • Discharge from the vagina.
  • Abdominal pain or abnormal bleeding, which may be an indication that the infection has progressed to pelvic inflammatory disease.

Dangers of NGU

You should have regular checkups if you are sexually active. If it's not treated early, NGU could cause:

  • Infertility in both men and women.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Eye and lung infections in newborn babies.

Women and babies have a high risk of serious complications from NGU. Women age 24 or younger who are sexually active should have a yearly chlamydia test.

Men diagnosed with NGU can help protect their partners by informing partners about the infection right away. According to ASHA, all sex partners of people with NGU should be tested and treated.

NGU is treated with antibiotics. If you're taking antibiotics for NGU, be sure to take all the medicine. Sometimes symptoms go away before the infection is fully treated.

Women who may be pregnant should tell their doctors before starting antibiotics. Not all types of antibiotics are safe for unborn babies.

Preventing NGU

According to ASHA, the only way to avoid any risk of STIs is abstinence—not having sex. ASHA lists these ways to reduce the risk of STIs for people who choose to be sexually active:

  • Have sex with only one person, who doesn't have an STI and who only has sex with you.
  • Before you have sex with anyone, talk about STIs, sexual health, testing and prevention.
  • Use a latex condom every time you have any type of sexual contact.
  • If you're sexually active, ask a doctor about STI testing. Be honest about your sexual history.
  • If you or your partner has an STI, don't have sex until after the disease has been treated.

Reviewed 10/3/2023

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