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The information contained on this page is provided as general health information and is not intended to substitute as medical advice and direction from your physician or health care provider. Please direct any questions related to your health care provider. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency center.


Traumatic injury of the bladder and urethra

Definition

Traumatic injury of the bladder and urethra involves damage caused by an outside force.

Alternative Names

Injury - bladder and urethra; Bruised bladder; Urethral injury; Bladder injury; Pelvic fracture; Urethral disruption; Bladder perforation

Causes

Types of bladder injuries include:

  • Blunt trauma (such as a blow to the body)
  • Penetrating wounds (such as bullet or stab wounds)

The amount of injury to the bladder depends on:

  • How full the bladder was at the time of injury
  • What caused the injury

Injury to the bladder due to trauma is not very common. The bladder is located within the bones of the pelvis. This protects it from most outside forces. Injury may occur if there is a blow to the pelvis severe enough to break the bones. In this case, bone fragments may pierce the bladder wall. Less than 1 in 10 pelvic fractures lead to bladder injury.

Other causes of bladder or urethra injury include:

  • Surgeries of the pelvis or groin (such as hernia repair and removal of the uterus).
  • Tears, cuts, bruises, and other injuries to the urethra. Urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body. This is most common in men.
  • Straddle injuries. This injury may occur if there is direct force that injures the area behind the scrotum.
  • Deceleration injury. This injury may occur during a motor vehicle accident. Your bladder can get injured if it is full and you are wearing a seatbelt.

Injury to the bladder or urethra may cause urine to leak into the abdomen. This may lead to infection.

Symptoms

Some common symptoms are:

Shock or internal bleeding may occur after a bladder injury. This is a medical emergency. Symptoms include:

If there is no or little urine released, there may be an increased risk for urinary tract infections (UTI) or kidney damage.

Exams and Tests

An exam of the genitals may show injury to the urethra. If the health care provider suspects an injury, you may have the following tests:

  • Retrograde urethrogram (an x-ray of the urethra using dye) for injury of urethra
  • Retrograde cystogram (imaging of bladder) for injury of bladder

The exam may also show:

  • Bladder injury or swollen (distended) bladder
  • Other signs of pelvic injury, such as bruising over the penis, scrotum, and perineum
  • Signs of hemorrhage or shock, including decreased blood pressure -- especially in cases of pelvic fracture
  • Tenderness and bladder fullness when touched (caused by urine retention)
  • Tender and unstable pelvic bones
  • Urine in the abdominal cavity

A catheter may be inserted once an injury of the urethra has been ruled out. This is a tube that drains urine from the body. An x-ray of the bladder using dye to highlight any damage can then be done.

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Control symptoms
  • Drain the urine
  • Repair the injury
  • Prevent complications

Emergency treatment of bleeding or shock may include:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Monitoring in the hospital

Emergency surgery may be done to repair the injury and drain the urine from the abdominal cavity in case of extensive injury or peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal cavity).

The injury can be repaired with surgery in most cases. The bladder may be drained by a catheter through the urethra or the abdominal wall (called a suprapubic tube) over a period of days to weeks. This will prevent urine from building up in the bladder. It will also allow the injured bladder or urethra to heal and prevent swelling in the urethra from blocking urine flow.

If the urethra has been cut, a urological specialist can try to put a catheter in place. If this cannot be done, a tube will be inserted through the abdominal wall directly into the bladder. This is called a suprapubic tube. It will be left in place until the swelling goes away and the urethra can be repaired with surgery. This takes 3 to 6 months.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Injury of the bladder and urethra due to trauma can be minor or fatal. Short or long-term serious complications can occur.

Possible Complications

Some of the possible complications of injury of the bladder and urethra are:

  • Bleeding, shock.
  • Blockage to the flow of urine. This causes the urine to back up and injure one or both kidneys.
  • Scarring leading to blockage of the urethra.
  • Problems emptying the bladder completely.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call the local emergency number (911) or go to the emergency room if you have an injury to bladder or urethra.

Call your provider if symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop, including:

  • Decrease in urine production
  • Fever
  • Blood in urine
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe flank or back pain
  • Shock or hemorrhage

Prevention

Prevent outside injury to the bladder and urethra by following these safety tips:

  • Do not insert objects into the urethra.
  • If you need self-catheterization, follow the instructions of your provider.
  • Use safety equipment during work and play.

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Bladder catheterization, femaleBladder catheterization, maleFemale urinary tractMale urinary tract

References

Morey AF, Zhao LC. Genital and lower urinary tract trauma. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 101.

Shewakramani SN. Genitourinary system. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 40.