Urethral injury

Dr Henry Knipe et al.

Urethral injuries can result in long-term morbidity and most commonly result from trauma. The male urethra is much more commonly injured than the female urethra and is the focus of this article.

In the setting of trauma, the classic triad of blood of the external urethral meatus or vaginal introitus may be seen but is an unreliable sign, as is haematuria. Inability to void may be seen in complete urethral disruption. Examination may reveal blood on digital rectal exam and perineal ecchymossis. 

Dysuria, urinary urgency and suprapubic discomfort can ensue in the chronic stages of incomplete urethral injury due to complicating strictures.

Male urethral injuries are divided into anterior (penile/bulbar) and posterior (membranous/prostatic) urethral injuries. Injuries, of course, may be partial or complete. There are a variety of causes:

  • blunt trauma: due to shearing or straddle injuries
  • penetrating trauma: e.g. stab wounds, gunshot wounds, dog bites
    • more commonly affect the anterior urethra
  • iatrogenic
    • catheterisation, Foley catheter removal without balloon deflation, cystoscopy
    • post-surgical (e.g. surgery for benign prostatic hyperplasia)
Classification

See: Goldman classification of urethral injuries.

Fluoroscopy

Retrograde urethrography is the modality of choice. It will demonstrate extraluminal contrast, which has extravasated from the urethra at the site of injury. It is important to determine if this is above the urogenital diaphragm (anterior) or below (posterior) it. Patients with incomplete injuries may represent subsequently with strictures.

The extent of injury can be categorised:

  • contusion
    • radiographically normal
  • partial disruption
    • extravasation of contrast with maintenance of normal urethral continuity
  • complete disruption
    • extravasation of contrast with loss of urethral continuity and lack of proximal urethral filling
CT

CT cystography can be performed but this is much less specific for urethral vs. bladder injury. Other features of urethral injury include retropubic and perivesical haematoma and obscuration of the urogenital fat plane.

Treatment consists from urinary diversion (e.g. suprapubic catheter) to primary or delayed urethral anastomosis depending on the severity (i.e. tear vs. complete rupture) of the injury. Urethral stricture is the most common long-term complication.

Share article

Article information

rID: 31812
Systems: Urogenital, Trauma
Section: Pathology
Tag: trauma
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Urethral rupture
  • Urethral injuries
  • Traumatic urethral injury
  • Iatrogenic urethral injury
  • Urethral trauma

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Drag
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 4: CT cystogram
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 5
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 6: urethral transection
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 7: traumatic urethral transection
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.
    Loadinganimation

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.