Non-Specific Urethritis (NSU) Guide

Often abbreviated to NSU for convenience, non-specific urethritis is a condition with some unpleasant symptoms. In this article we take a broad look at NSU and the ins and outs of the condition.

Introduction to NSU

NSU is also known as non-gonococcal urethritis for reasons soon to be discussed, and the condition affects a particular part of the body called the urethra. Both men and women possess a urethra, which is essentially the tube running from the bladder and out of the body. As you might imagine, the purpose of the urethra is to carry urine out of the body, and so it is an important part of our natural waste disposal system.

NSU involve a painful inflammation of the urethra, and the condition fits under a broader category of conditions called urethritis. NSU in particular earns its name from the fact that no distinctive cause for the condition can be determined. The condition is often referred to as non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) because one of the more common causes of urethritis is gonorrhoea, and instances where the condition is not caused by gonorrhoea can be classed as NGUs.

While no specific, determinable cause of NSU is one of the hallmarks of the condition, we do have some understanding of what may be causing the condition. It is thought that even though an infection may not be detected in the course of looking into NSU, at least half of all male conditions are actually caused by the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. In some cases NSU is caused by injury or blockage of the urethra, and the use of some products like creams and soaps can cause the urethra to become inflamed.

Interestingly women suffering from NSU will rarely present with any symptoms, while men will often suffer notably from the condition. An estimated 80,000 cases of NSU are reported by men in the UK every year, and the condition can be diagnosed through urine tests or swabs of the urethra.

Male sufferers of NSU will most often report a painful burning during urination, often alongside pain and irritation at the end of the penis. In some cases there can be a cloudy discharge from the end of the urethra.

Fortunately despite its prevalence and unpleasant symptoms, NSU is very treatable. Antibiotics are prescribed to combat the infection responsible for the symptoms and the condition itself. The treatment can last about two weeks, and it is important that former sexual partners are spoken to about the condition in case it has been caused by an STI. These steps are taken to address the issue of sexually transmitted disease and prevent the spread of STIs, as well as to provide infected peoples with any treatment they might need.

Safe sex is one of the best ways to prevent the unwanted spread of NSU as the majority of cases stem from infection with chlamydia. This means using a barrier method of contraception like a condom to prevent the unwanted exchange of bodily fluid that can result in the transmission of NSU causing sexually transmitted infection.


NSU, also known by its full name, non-specific or non-gonococcal urethritis, is a condition that has been on the rise in the UK alongside the spread of STIs which can cause it. Fortunately despite the discomfort and pain associated with the symptoms of the condition in men (NSU is largely asymptomatic in women), the condition is very treatable, and in this article we look at how non-specific urethritis can be treated once diagnosed.

NSU is primarily treated through a short course of antibiotics your doctor will provide you once a diagnosis of NSU has been made. You can arrange to see medical health professionals at specialised sexual health or genitourinary medicine clinics, and these individuals are capable of prescribing any necessary medications.

Antibiotics are specially formulated drugs with an anti-bacterial action from which they derive their name. As most cases of NSU are caused by a bacterial infection of some sort, antibiotics are an effective and fast acting way of clearing up the condition. Antibiotics are actually also used where NSU isn’t caused by an infection, but by trauma or exposure of the urethra to irritants like soap, creams, or foreign objects. In these instances despite the non-infectious cause of NSU, there is often an element of infection which can be effectively addressed through antibiotics.

These antibiotics are not available over the counter, and you will need a prescription from one of the previously mentioned sources to gain access to the drugs. The two most commonly used antibiotics are azithromycin and doxycycline. The former is given as a single dose that you only need to take once, while the latter needs to be taken twice a day over the course of a week.

Following the instructions associated with the administration of the antibiotic in question will hopefully lead to the infection being treated. You won’t need to revisit the clinic, but you will have to make sure that you have informed your recent sexual partners about the condition as it is infectious and they might need treatment. You should also avoid any sex for at least a week to prevent any further transmission of the illness, and it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to completely clear.

It is absolutely critical that you avoid sex of any kind, be it vaginal, oral, or anal, whilst taking your medication (or in the week after taking azithromycin). During this time despite the antibiotics there will still be bacteria around your urethra which can be transmitted to someone else. Ideally you should avoid sex until you have no symptoms at all, even if this can take a couple of weeks.

There are cases where despite following the course of prescribed antibiotics, there is no resolution of symptoms two weeks after you have been given antibiotics. Should this occur, you should visit your local sexual health or genitourinary medical clinic to follow up on your care. In some cases, your symptoms might persist because the infection was passed back to you by a sexual partner.

You will probably be asked to go through a number of tests to look for any sexually transmitted infections that might underlie your NSU and contribute to it. Your doctor may prescribe a different set of antibiotics and follow up on your treatment in that way.

Symptoms of Non-Specific Urethritis ยป