What is urethral trauma?
Urethral trauma can affect two different parts of the urethra. Trauma to the anterior urethra is usually the result of straddle-like injuries. This trauma occurs when a person sustains injury from a sharp blow to the perineum since the urethra is located near the skin in this area. This injury can occur, for example, when a child forcefully straddles a bicycle seat or bar or a fence. Trauma to the anterior urethra can lead to scarring called a urethral stricture, scarring that can slow or block the flow of urine from the penis.
Trauma to the posterior urethra is almost always occurs as a result of severe injuries such as pelvic fractures following automobile accidents or falls from significant heights. In males, posterior urethral trauma may result in the urethra being completely torn just below the prostate. These severe injuries can also lead to scar tissue that slows or blocks the normal flow of urine. For females, urethral injuries are rare and almost always related to pelvic fractures or cuts, tears, or direct trauma to the vaginal area.
What are the symptoms of urethral trauma?
Trauma to the urethra can cause significant problems. Injury can cause leakage of urine into surrounding tissues and result in swelling, inflammation, infection and abdominal pain. Urethral trauma can also cause the inability to urinate, retention of urine in the bladder and blood in the urine (hematuria). For males, the most common sign of a problem is blood — even a drop — at the tip of the penis. Swelling and bruising of the penis, scrotum and perineum may also occur, along with pain in the affected area.
How is urethral trauma diagnosed?
Individuals who have blood at the end of the penis or in the urine or who cannot urinate following an injury to the urethral area should see a physician immediately so that an appropriate evaluation (including X-rays) can be performed.
In any patient who suffers a pelvic fracture, an X-ray of the urethra is routinely performed because of the high incidence of urethral injury (about 10 percent) associated with such injuries. This X-ray is performed by injecting x-ray contrast dye into the opening of the urethra. X-rays are taken to see if any of the dye leaks out of the urethra, which indicates an injury.