The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body. In men, the urethra runs through the middle of the penis.
Most urethral injuries occur in men. Common causes include pelvic fractures Pelvic Fractures One or more bones of the pelvis may be broken. These fractures range from a small chip of bone being broken off, to fractures due to slight force (as can occur in older people with osteoporosis)... read more and straddle injuries to the perineum. The perineum is the area between the anus and the scrotum (or in women between the anus and vulva).
The urethra can also be injured unintentionally during surgical procedures done directly on the urethra or during procedures in which instruments are passed into the urethra, such as bladder catheterization or cystoscopy Cystoscopy A doctor can diagnose some disorders of the bladder and urethra (for example, bladder tumors, stones in the bladder, benign prostatic enlargement) by looking through a flexible viewing tube... read more (passing a flexible viewing tube through the urethra into the bladder). Occasionally, injuries result from gunshot wounds. Rarely, urethral injuries can be self-inflicted when a person inserts a foreign object directly into the urethra, or they can occur with a penile fracture Fracture of the penis Most genital injuries occur in men and may involve injury to the testes, scrotum, and/or penis. Severe genital injuries occur most commonly on the battlefield, usually from ground explosives... read more .
Some injuries to the urethra are limited to bruising. Injury to the urethra can also tear the lining, resulting in leakage of urine into the tissues of the penis, scrotum, abdominal wall, or perineum.
Complications that can result from urethral injuries include infection, bleeding, permanent narrowing (stricture or stenosis), erectile dysfunction Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to attain or sustain an erection satisfactory for sexual intercourse. (See also Overview of Sexual Dysfunction in Men.) Every man occasionally has... read more , and uncontrollable loss of urine (urinary incontinence Urinary Incontinence in Adults Urinary incontinence is involuntary loss of urine. Incontinence can occur in both men and women at any age, but it is more common among women and older adults, affecting about 30% of older women... read more ).
(See also Overview of Urinary Tract and Genital Injury Overview of Urinary Tract and Genital Injury The kidneys and the rest of the urinary tract (the bladder, ureters [tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder], and urethra [the tube through which urine flows out of the body]... read more .)
Symptoms of Urethral Injuries
The most common symptoms of urethral injuries include blood at the tip of the penis in men or the urethral opening in women, blood in the urine, an inability to urinate, and pain during urination. Bruising may be visible between the legs or in the genitals. Other symptoms may arise when complications develop. For example, if urine leaks into surrounding tissues, infection may result. In addition, the injury may cause the urethra to narrow (stricture Urethral Stricture A urethral stricture is scarring that narrows the urethra. A urethral stricture may be Present from birth Develop after an infection or injury A urethral stricture most commonly results from... read more or stenosis) near or at the site of injury, making it difficult to urinate. Men may also experience impairment in the ability to have an erection (erectile dysfunction Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to attain or sustain an erection satisfactory for sexual intercourse. (See also Overview of Sexual Dysfunction in Men.) Every man occasionally has... read more ), caused by damage to the nerves or blood supply to the penis.
Diagnosis of Urethral Injuries
In men, the diagnosis of a urethral injury is usually confirmed by retrograde urethrography, an x-ray taken after a radiopaque contrast agent, a liquid that is visible on x-rays, is put directly into the end of the urethra. Retrograde urethrography is done before a catheter is passed through the urethra into the bladder. In women, a flexible endoscope is used to examine the lining of the bladder and the urethra (cystoscopy Cystoscopy A doctor can diagnose some disorders of the bladder and urethra (for example, bladder tumors, stones in the bladder, benign prostatic enlargement) by looking through a flexible viewing tube... read more ).
Treatment of Urethral Injuries
Bladder drainage tube
Sometimes surgery (to repair urethral tears)
For urethral bruises that do not result in any leakage of urine, a doctor can place a catheter through the urethra into the bladder for several days to drain the urine while the urethra heals.
For most urethral tears, the urine should be diverted from the urethra using a catheter placed directly into the bladder through the skin over the lower abdomen. The urethra is repaired surgically after all other injuries have healed or after 8 to 12 weeks (when inflammation has resolved). Rarely, urethral tears heal without surgery.
Treatment helps to prevent some complications of urethral injuries. Complications that cannot be prevented are treated accordingly.