If you or a loved one frequently has trouble urinating, blood in the urine or other uncomfortable symptoms, you may be affected by urethral stricture disease. As with other urinary diseases or infections, urethral strictures can lead to severe problems if not treated promptly and appropriately. Researching treatment options may seem a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never sought medical care for this issue before.
It can be challenging to determine which option is best for you, but it’s best to educate yourself on your options before talking to your doctor. Below, we’ll examine surgical treatment options for urethral stricture disease as well as some non-surgical alternatives that may provide minimally invasive relief.
Urethral stricture disease occurs when there is an obstruction in the urethra that prevents the flow of urine and emptying of the bladder properly. The stricture will block the narrow passage of the urethra, making it difficult and painful to urinate. Urethral strictures are often caused by traumatic, inflammatory or ischemic processes that can lead to severe problems if left untreated.
Letting these issues go on too long without seeking medical treatment can cause kidney damage, urinary tract infections and general discomfort or pain with urination.
There are two main types of urethral strictures, which include:
Numerous medical and traumatic complications can lead to urethral stricture, yet 30% of the causes1 of this condition are unknown. Here are the most common factors that lead to this issue.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, are among the most common causes of swelling and scarring in the urethra, creating urethral strictures.
Some skin conditions, such as Lichen sclerosis, create thin, white patches of skin in the genital area and lead to chronic inflammation, itching and bruising. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also create urethral strictures.
Certain treatments and surgeries can create scar tissue in the urethra that blocks urine flow, such as irritation from long-term catheters, kidney stone removal or prostate surgery. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) symptoms or previous surgery to remove or reduce an enlarged prostate gland can lead to strictures. Inserting an instrument, such as an endoscope, into the urethra may also be a cause.
Some people are born with improperly formed or irregular urinary structures and genitals. One example of this is Hypospadias, which is a congenital disorder where the opening of the urethra is located on the underside of the penis instead of the tip. Adults who were born with this condition will likely have more urethral strictures.
Injury or trauma to the genital and pelvic area can cause strictures, such as falling, damage from surgical tools or being hit in the genitals.
Urethral or prostate cancer can create many complications, such as scarring or an enlarged prostate, in the urethra, leading to strictures. Radiation therapy treatment used to kill cancer cells in this region can also cause urethral strictures. Just over 2% of prostate cancer patients2 can experience radiation-related urethral strictures.
The urethra acts like a garden hose. Where there is a blockage or narrowing in the hose, the flow of water is restricted. If you or a loved one has a narrow enough stricture, you or they will experience various symptoms, such as problems with urinating, pain or infections. A severe blockage that goes untreated for a long time can lead to kidney damage.
In some cases, people with urethral stricture may not exhibit any symptoms. However, it’s common to experience a range from mild discomfort to extreme pain to complete urinary retention. Other common symptoms of urethral stricture include:
There are several ways for doctors to determine whether you have a urethral stricture, such as by conducting a physical exam or using ultrasound and X-rays to produce images of the urethra to locate the blockage. Doctors can also use a urinalysis (UA), urine culture or urethral culture to determine if you have a urethral stricture. Imaging and endoscopic examinations are often necessary to determine the cause of this condition.
Two other common procedures for urethral strictures are a urethroscopy and a retrograde urethrogram.
In this procedure, a urethroscopist will insert a small, lubricated urethroscope into the urethra. This urethroscope has a very small camera attached to the end of the bendable or rigid probe. As the doctor moves it up the urethra, they are able to see the narrowed area and assess the structure and function of the urethral sphincter.
The urethroscopist can also use a flexible cystoscope to analyze the anatomy of the bladder to rule out abnormal conditions. A urethroscopy is done in a doctor’s office and allows them to decide the best treatment option for the stricture.
A retrograde urethrogram is used to determine more details about strictures, such as how many there are, their length, severity and position. This outpatient procedure uses contrast dye, which is a fluid that doctors can see on X-ray imaging, by inserting it into the urethra without the use of catheters or needles. The dye allows the doctor to see the entire urethra on the X-ray machine, which helps them locate the narrowed area.
The term “retrograde” in this procedure refers to “against the flow” of urine, which can be combined with an antegrade urethrogram, meaning “with the flow” of urine. This combination involves inserting dye from above and below the bladder or urethra to help doctors find the gap of the stricture so they can plan for surgery. This procedure can also be used to identify strictures if there has been trauma to the area by injecting the dye through a catheter that doctors place for healing.
Men are most likely to be affected by urethral strictures than women because they have a longer urethra. This means their urine has to travel farther, which opens up more opportunities for their urethra to become damaged, infected or affected by urethral disease.
Though urethral strictures can affect women and children, it’s much rarer due to their short urethras. Female urethras are only about 1.5 inches long compared to the 7- to 10-inch range in males, which makes them less prone to injury and infection.
Among men and women, however, those who repeatedly develop infections, such as UTIs or urethritis, are more susceptible to developing urethral strictures. The same risk factor applies to those with poor hygiene.
In the U.S., male urethral strictures account for over 5,000 hospital admissions3 every year and over 1.5 million visits to healthcare clinics. Urethral strictures are also much more common in those older than 65 than in younger individuals.
Since urethral strictures are so rare in females, there is a lack of diagnosis and treatment options available compared to various treatments for men.
People suffering from urethral strictures often need to undergo one or more treatment options, which can be surgical or non-surgical, to avoid a worse issue. Urinary or testicular infections could develop, such as kidney stones, if left untreated. Likewise, excessive urinary retention can cause an enlarged bladder and other kidney problems.
Below, we’ll discuss some treatment options for urethral strictures as well as some benefits and considerations of each.
Intermittent self-catheterization (ISC) for urethral stricture allows patients to empty their bladders if they have difficulty or discomfort when urinating. As the term suggests, this patient performs this procedure themselves. This treatment involves inserting the thin, hollow catheter into the bladder through the urethra so urine can drain through the tube into the toilet or container.
Once the bladder is empty, you remove the catheter and repeat at regular intervals during the day. Some people may need to complete this method four to six times a day or every few hours depending on how fast the bladder fills up.
Intermittent self-catheterization can keep the scarred area of the urethra from narrowing, but this method can be painful or time-consuming and requires a constant supply of catheters. Additionally, inserting catheters too often or having them in too long can risk introducing bacteria into the body and lead to infection, scarring, UTIs, spasms or perforations.
Standard dilation for urethral stricture is another common type of treatment. This outpatient procedure involves general or local anesthesia and is performed by a urologist. The treatment involves stretching the narrow stricture tissue out using rod dilators that increase in diameter or a dilation balloon inserted by a catheter. While this solution is a non-surgical treatment option for urethral stricture disease, some patients may find it’s only short-term.
Sometimes, the stretching method must be repeated regularly. If the stricture comes back too quickly, patients may have to learn how to perform the urethral dilation at home with lubricating gel, anesthetic gel and rods to prevent it from coming back. However, if the stricture is small or short, it’s less likely you will need to get the procedure done again. Some side effects of this procedure include infection, bleeding or the creation of a second “false” urethral channel due to stretching.
Optilume is the world’s first Drug Coated Balloon approved by the FDA to treat patients with Urethral Strictures. The Optilume Urethral Drug Coated Balloon technology simultaneously dilates and delivers an anti-proliferative medicine to the urethral stricture.
During the Optilume procedure, The Optilume device expands the scar tissue surrounding the urethral stricture creating a dilation and micro-fissures across the affected area. This allows the drug, paclitaxel, to be delivered directly to the stricture. This combined technique results in limiting scar tissue generation and helps prevent future stricture recurrence.
Optilume® is proven to provide superior results compared to the standard of care for endoscopic management. The ROBUST III Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial showed that 83% of patients remained free from re-treatments for their urethral stricture 1 year after their Optilume procedure. 6 A doctor can consult with you to determine your best treatment option. Contact us to find a full list of Optilume® providers.
Internal urethrotomy for urethral stricture uses a special scope that moves along the urethra to locate the stricture. This treatment is often an outpatient surgery that involves cutting the stricture to create a gap using a laser or knife blade at the end of the cystoscope.
Once the stricture is cut open, the bladder is emptied through a catheter and filled up again with irrigation fluid, which is drained afterward. To let the opened stricture heal, the surgeon will often place a new catheter to hold the gap open and remain in place for a certain length of time depending on the length or severity of the stricture.
Short-term (less than six months) success rates for internal urethrotomy are about 70%-80%4 and will often increase after the five-year mark if there’s no recurrence.
Urethroplasty is an inpatient surgical treatment option with an average stay of about 2.5 days5. Urethroplasty for urethral stricture is a reconstructive procedure that consists of two main types: anastomotic urethroplasty and substitution urethroplasty.
Usually reserved for short, minor urethral strictures, this method involves cutting between the scrotum and rectum and reconnecting the urethra to remove the stricture. This surgery can be either inpatient or outpatient and requires a catheter for up to three weeks and an X-ray image after removal to ensure the repair is healed.
For longer or more severe strictures, this surgery involves transferring tissue to replace the area where the stricture was. This procedure may be inpatient or outpatient and can consist of repairs in several different stages, including:
While these surgeries often produce long-lasting results, potential complications and side effects include erectile dysfunction and penile curvature.
If you or your loved one is interested in trying a non-surgical treatment option for Urethral stricture disease, consider breaking the stricture cycle with Optilume®, a urethral drug-coated balloon developed by the global medical device leaders at Laborie. We created this cutting-edge solution to solve the severe patient and physician dissatisfaction with the available surgeries and treatments for strictures today.
With Optilume®, patients can feel immediate symptomatic relief with local drug delivery to maintain urethral patency. At Laborie, our mission is to create and advance technologies that can improve patient outcomes and make healthcare solutions more effective. To learn more about our urethral stricture medical device, find a provider near you who uses our products or contact us with any questions.
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