Urethral Syndrome

oPatientPlus articles are written by UK doctors and are based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. They are designed for health professionals to use, so you may find the language more technical than the condition leaflets.

Synonym: abacterial cystitis

Urethral syndrome describes lower urinary tract symptoms (urinary frequency, urgency, dysuria, and suprapubic discomfort) but no recognised urinary pathogen cultured from urine or any other objective finding of urological abnormality.[1]

The diagnosis of urethral syndrome is based on the history, negative urine cultures, dynamic cystourethroscopy and urodynamic studies. Use of the term urethral syndrome is now controversial as there are no agreed diagnostic criteria and there is an overlap with other diagnoses, eg interstitial cystitis.[1]

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  • Urethral syndrome is thought to affect 20-30% of all adult women and it is particularly seen in young women. The exact incidence of urethral syndrome is unknown because of a lack of consensus in diagnosis.[1]
  • Risk factors include grand multiparity, delivery without episiotomy and two or more abortions.[2]
  • Urethral syndrome is more common in females than in males and is more common in white women.[1]
  • Urine dipstick analysis and send midstream urine for microscopy, culture and sensitivities.
  • Urethral swab for chlamydia, chlamydial-antigens in first-pass urine sample.
  • If chlamydia-negative and persistent symptoms, obtain a sample by suprapubic aspiration or urethral catheterisation and culture under special conditions for 'fastidious' or slow-growing organisms. Any organisms detected in this way are clinically significant.
  • If no infection is found, consider cystoscopy to exclude non-infective causes. Further investigations may also include pelvic ultrasound, MRI scan, intravenous urography and urodynamic studies.
  • General principles:
    • Underlying psychological problems should be considered and may need treatment but they are often irrelevant.
    • Behavioural therapy (including biofeedback, meditation, and hypnosis) has been used with some success.
    • Highly acidic foods, including spicy foods, should be avoided.
    • Exercise and massage programmes can be very helpful.
    • Urethral massage may help by encouraging drainage of mucus from chronically infected periurethral glands.
  • Medication:
    • Treatment of urinary tract infections and chlamydial urethritis as indicated.
    • Vaginal oestrogen cream may be curative in patients with atrophic urethritis.
  • Surgery:
    • Urethral dilatation assumes that symptoms are due to urethral spasm or stricture. However, there is very little clinical evidence of effectiveness and it may cause periurethral fibrosis leading to urethral strictures. Urethral dilatation is therefore only now performed if true urethral stenosis is found.

Chronic pain may have a severe psychological impact.

Symptoms of urethral syndrome usually improve with age but may be lifelong.[1]

Further reading & references

  1. Terris MK et al; Urethral Syndrome, eMedicine, May 2009
  2. Gurel H, Gurel SA, Atilla MK; Urethral syndrome and associated risk factors related to obstetrics and gynecology.; Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 1999 Mar;83(1):5-7.
  3. Mutlu B, Mutlu N, Yucesoy G; The incidence of Chlamydia trachomatis in women with urethral syndrome.; Int J Clin Pract. 2001 Oct;55(8):525-6.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Colin Tidy
Current Version:
Document ID:
1056 (v23)
Last Checked:
18/02/2011
Next Review:
17/02/2016