Let’s break down what “urethral strictures” means, and how this medical condition might apply to you.
The urethra is the tube that begins at the bladder and carries urine out of the body. In men, the urethra goes from the bladder, through the prostate gland immediately beneath the bladder, and into the penis. Strictures are when scar tissue builds up within a passageway of the body, narrowing it. Strictures can occur in many different areas, including inside the urethra. So, the urethral stricture is a problem where urine flow could be restricted due to a narrowing of the urethra.
What Causes a Urethral Stricture?
Scarring inside the urethra typically occurs as the result of trauma or infection, such as from:
- Trauma to the penis, scrotum, or perineum
- Medical procedures involving access via the urethra (e.g., cystoscopy, ureteroscopy)
- Chronic inflammation
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (e.g., chlamydia)
- Catheter use that is periodic or prolonged (e.g., 5 days or longer)
- Enlarged prostate or its treatment (e.g., prostatectomy)
- Prostate cancer or its treatment (e.g., surgery, radiation therapy)
In some cases, no clear cause of the urethral stricture can be identified.
How to Tell If You Have a Urethral Stricture
Signs and symptoms of a urethral stricture are very similar to those of an enlarged prostate and may include:
- Pain, difficulty, or spraying when urinating
- Weak urine stream
- Frequent urges to urinate but difficulty completely emptying the bladder
- Dribbling after urination
- Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Swelling of the penis
- Urinary incontinence
- Blood in urine and/or semen
If you become unable to urinate at all, this is called urinary retention. This is considered a medical emergency, and you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Is It Serious?
Left untreated, any urinary symptoms related to strictures that you are currently experiencing will continue – and may lead to UTIs or kidney stones. Severe urethral strictures may eventually harm the kidneys. As such, you should seek medical care when you notice symptoms that suggest an issue with the urinary system. This is definitely not an issue you want to let fester and worsen.
When Should I See a Doctor About Urethral Strictures?
When to see a urologist about urethral strictures depends on how much of an impact the stricture is having on your ability to urinate. Some men may have urethral strictures and experience no symptoms whatsoever. Others can have relatively small strictures but experience significantly disruptive symptoms. Most men with urethral strictures seek treatment once their symptoms become bothersome – or at the very least, noticeable. If you notice any issues or changes in your urinary health, talk to a urologist just to be on the safe side.
What to Expect at the Doctor’s Office
Urethral strictures are typically diagnosed after a physical exam and certain tests. These may include a urine flow test, ultrasound, and X-rays (when used with contrast dye, it’s called a retrograde urethrogram). Your urologist may recommend a cystoscopy to explore the inside of the urethra. This is an in-office diagnostic procedure that uses local anesthetic and a small, flexible scope to better examine the target area of the urethra. These diagnostic tests can not only confirm a diagnosis of urethral strictures but can also help determine what type of treatment may be most appropriate in your situation.
How Are Urethral Strictures Treated?
You have options when it comes to treating urethral strictures. Which option is right for you will depend on the location and length of the scar tissue inside the urethra and how severe the resulting urinary blockage is.
The following are common ways urethral strictures are treated. The first two methods don’t involve any surgical incisions to gain access to the stricture. Instead, they use special medical instruments that access the urethra from the penis.
- Dilation – using a balloon catheter to stretch scar tissue in order to help break it up
- Urethrotomy– cutting the stricture, such as with a laser or other instrument
- Urethroplasty– surgical removal and reconstruction of the urethra
Currently, there are no medications that can be used to treat this condition.
Experienced Urological Surgeon Near Phoenix and Mesa, AZ
Are you experiencing urinary difficulties? It may not be an enlarged prostate as you might suspect– it could be urethral strictures. To find out for sure – and get the treatment you need quickly – contact board-certified and fellowship-trained urologist Dr. Desi Avila at Ironwood Urology in Phoenix, Arizona, at (480) 961-2323 or request your appointment now.