Medical Fun Facts Episode 36: U

If I’ve timed this correctly, tonight’s show is dropping on Thursday 02 February 2017 and I’m currently in India as the show becomes available. I’m in Delhi for work. I’m attending a World Health Organization meeting on poliovirus containment.

Tonight’s episode is about something beginning with the letter U. So what is urethritis? Simply, it is inflammation of the urethra. And what is the urethra some of you may ask? It should not be confused with the ureters which are also tubes for the secure transport of urine, but in men, urethras have an extra purpose. Let me back track a bit. Ureters connect your kidneys with your bladder. Your urethra is what connects your bladder with the outside world. Women have a short urethra and men have a longer one. In men, the urethra also collects semen which is made up of spermatozoa (in men before they have a vasectomy) as well as thick gooey secretions from glands between the testes and the prostate. The prostate is responsible for a good portion of a bloke’s semen. From the prostate the urethra has to pass down the middle of the penis and opens at the urethral meatus.

So what causes urethritis? Well some of my favourite things cause urethritis. Namely, Neisseria gonorrhoeæ, Chlamydia trachomatis, and Mycoplasma genitalium.  There are also some viruses which cause urethritis, namely, Herpes simplex virus, Cytomegalovirus, and Human papillomavirus.

How is urethritis spread? Well, urethritis is mostly sexually transmitted. So even though, we’re talking about infection in the urethra, it depends on what your urethra has been in contact with. So if your urethra is in contact with infected oral mucosa, anal and rectal mucosa, vaginal mucosa and also the discharge from someone else’s urethra, you can become infected. It’s not inconceivable that if you have someone’s infectious urethral discharge spurt in your eye, you may end up with conjunctivitis. Most conjunctivitis is caused by respiratory viruses, so if you’ve been squirted in the eye it’s important to tell your doctor so the correct diagnosis can be made. This is why a sexual history is always worth taking by healthcare professionals in the appropriate clinical context.

The most important take home message is that quite often the symptoms of urethritis resolve on their own, but that doesn’t mean your infection is cured. It’s important to visit your doctor or sexual health clinic, you need to be examined, have a specimen collected so a proper diagnosis can be made and proper treatment started. The last thing you want to do is spread your infection.

Just as a side note while I’m doing this show I’ve received a lovely message from my dear friends Kaitlyn and Stuart who are sharing Medical Fun Facts with Stuart’s parents. Thank you Kaitlyn for the Facebook message. I hope you don’t mind the shout out in the middle of this show.

Anyway, what are the symptoms of urethritis? Men can experience burning and itching when they pass urine. It can feel like your passing razor blades along the length of your penis. I’m just assuming if you have a really long penis, you won’t want urethritis. You can get a burning sensation at the tip of your dick and you may notice a purulent discharge. If you have gonorrhoea it may be a little thick and sticky, while Chlamydia trachomatis usually causes a thin runny discharge. You may also notice some staining on your underwear. If you go commando, then you’ll be staining your trousers or shorts. You may also see some blood in your urine and semen because your mucosal membranes are pretty delicate and inflammation can cause capillary bleeding. In women, you may feel, the need to empty your bladder more, it may be uncomfortable to pass urine, you too can have burning and itching at the opening of your urethra, and as you part your labia you may notice a discharge.      

And so ends another episode of Medical Fun Facts. I just hope while you’re listening to this I don’t have Delhi belly. You can find the show notes for every episode at my blog

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