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Urethral Trauma

By

Noel A. Armenakas

, MD, Weill Cornell Medical School

Last full review/revision Aug 2019| Content last modified Aug 2019
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Urethral injuries usually occur in men. Most major urethral injuries are due to blunt trauma. Penetrating urethral trauma is less common, occurring mainly as a result of gunshot wounds, or, alternatively, due to inserting objects into the urethra during sexual activity or because of psychiatric illness.

Urethral injuries are classified as contusions, partial disruptions, or complete disruptions, and they may involve the posterior or anterior urethral segments. Posterior urethral injuries occur almost exclusively with pelvic fractures. Anterior urethral injuries are often consequences of a perineal straddle injury due to a fall, perineal blow, or motor vehicle crash. Iatrogenic injuries occur during transurethral instrumentation (eg, catheter placement or removal, cystoscopy).

Complications include infection, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and stricture or stenosis ("stenosis" is narrowing of the posterior urethra whereas "stricture" refers exclusively to the anterior urethra).

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms include pain with voiding or inability to void. Blood at the urethral meatus is the most important sign of a urethral injury. Additional signs include perineal, scrotal, penile, and labial ecchymosis, edema, or both. Abnormal location of the prostate on rectal examination (so-called high-riding prostate) is an inaccurate indicator of a urethral injury. Blood on digital, rectal, or vaginal examination requires thorough evaluation.

Diagnosis

  • Retrograde urethrography

Any male patient with symptoms or signs suggestive of a urethral injury should undergo retrograde urethrography. This procedure should always precede catheterization. Urethral catheterization in a male with an undetected significant urethral injury may potentiate urethral disruption (eg, convert a partial disruption to a complete disruption). Female patients require prompt cystoscopy and a thorough vaginal examination.

Pearls & Pitfalls

  • If male urethral injury is suspected, do not insert a urethral catheter until after urethrography.

Treatment

  • Usually urethral catheterization (for contusions) or suprapubic cystostomy

  • Sometimes endoscopic realignment or surgical repair (for select injuries)

  • Delayed definitive surgery

Contusions can be safely treated with an indwelling transurethral catheter for about 7 days. Partial disruptions are best treated with bladder drainage via a suprapubic cystostomy. In select cases of posterior partial disruptions, primary urethral realignment (endoscopic or open) may be attempted; if successful, this approach may limit subsequent urethral stenosis.

The simplest and safest option for most patients with complete disruption is bladder drainage via a suprapubic cystostomy. Definitive surgery is deferred for about 8 to 12 weeks until the urethral scar tissue has stabilized and the patient has recovered from any accompanying injuries.

Open repair of urethral injuries is limited to those associated with penile fractures, penetrating injuries, and all injuries in females.

Key Points

  • Most posterior urethral injuries are associated with pelvic fractures. Anterior injuries are usually from a blunt mechanism; urethral injuries with penile fractures or from penetrating trauma occur less frequently.

  • Consider urethral injuries particularly in patients who have pelvic fractures or straddle injuries and who have blood at the urethral meatus or difficulty voiding.

  • In males, do retrograde urethrography before urethral catheterization.

  • In females, do cystoscopy and a thorough vaginal examination.

  • Treat contusions with urethral catheterization and most urethral disruptions initially with a suprapubic cystostomy; consider primary realignment in select cases.

  • Delay surgical reconstruction except in select injuries (ie, penile fractures, penetrating injuries, and female urethral injuries).

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