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What Is a Urethral Swab?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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A urethral swab refers to a medical procedure in which a small cotton swab is inserted into the urethra in order to collect a tissue or fluid sample. This is performed to check for certain sexually transmitted diseases. Collected specimens are then sent for testing at appropriate laboratories.

The urethral swab is most commonly used to detect sexually transmitted diseases and other infections. It is most often performed on men for these purposes, as females would normally have a vaginal swab. The procedure is sometimes uncomfortable for several minutes, but it is a minor outpatient procedure which can be completed in a few short seconds. A small cotton-tipped swab is inserted directly into the urethra. Discharge or a small amount of tissue is collected in this way for further testing.

Once specimens have been taken, they are cultured and sent to a lab for analysis. This may be done on-site or at a separate facility. Patients who undergo a urethral swab procedure generally also have additional procedures performed to test for other sexually transmitted infections. Blood may be drawn to check for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A urine sample may also be taken and any open sores or lesions may be checked.

Men who undergo this procedure may also have a full physical performed at the same visit. This can include a scrotal hernia check as well as tests to check heart and respiratory function. The exact procedures performed may depend on where the patient is being tested. Family practices and general practitioners may do a more thorough exam, while public clinics and health departments generally only do sexually transmitted disease and family planning exams.

It may take several days for test results to come back after having a urethral swab performed. The exact length of time may depend on the type of test being performed and whether or not each specimen has to be sent to an outside location. If any cultures come back showing some form of disease, additional tests or treatment may be done. Those showing visible symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection may be treated before the results come back and then be retested once treatment is complete.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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