Non-specific urethritis (NSU)

What is it?          

Urethritis is inflammation (pain, redness or soreness) of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) means the inflammation hasn’t been caused by the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea, which is a common cause of urethritis.

If the cause of the inflammation is unknown, it’s sometimes called non-specific urethritis (NSU).

NGU only occurs in people with a penis. It’s very common and is usually easy to treat.

How do I get it?               

During unprotected (without a condom) vaginal, anal or oral sex, organisms (tiny living cells) which cause inflammation can pass into the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body).

NGU can occur in anyone who has a penis and is sexually active, although not all cases are caused by having sex.

You can’t get NGU from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels or from toilet seats.

Signs and Symptoms     

Not everyone who has non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) has signs or symptoms, or they may be so mild they’re not noticed.

If signs and symptoms caused by an infection occur, they usually show up within 2–4 weeks after contact with the infection but may occur sooner or later than this.

If you do get signs and symptoms you might notice:

  • a white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis, often more noticeable first thing in the morning
  • pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
  • occasionally you can get the feeling that you need to pass urine frequently
  • itching or irritation at the end of the urethra.


It’s important that you don’t delay getting a test if you think you may have an infection. You can have a test even if you haven’t got symptoms.
It’s possible to be tested for signs of inflammation within a few days of having sex, but it may be necessary to wait up to two weeks before you can do a test to check for infections such as chlamydia.
Your penis will be examined for signs of inflammation and you’ll be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
The tests may involve a doctor or nurse:

  •  using a swab to collect a sample from the entrance of the urethra at the tip of the penis
  •  asking you to give a urine sample
  •  examining your penis.

A swab looks like a a small plastic loop on the end rather than a cotton tip. It’s wiped over the parts of the body that could be affected and easily picks up samples of discharge and cells. It only takes a few seconds and isn’t usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment. It may be possible to look at your swab sample under a microscope straight away and give you the result before you leave the clinic.


Usually a short course of antibiotics.


Further Guidance: Non-specific urethritis (NSU)