The diagnosis of acute urethral trauma

Injury. 2011 Sep;42(9):913-6. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2010.08.007. Epub 2010 Aug 24.


Background: During trauma resuscitation, blind catheterization of an injured urethra may aggravate the injury by disrupting a partially torn urethra. In busy trauma centers, retrograde urethrograms (RUG) prior to catheterisation for all patients with unstable pelvic fractures presents a challenge during trauma resuscitation, and the procedure is not commonly practiced despite Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) and World Health Organisation recommendations. The aim of this study was to determine the presenting clinical features of patients with urethral injuries and to predict major trauma patients needing further investigation to exclude this injury.

Methods: A retrospective review of adult major trauma patients diagnosed with urethral injuries during an 8-year period at a major trauma centre, was conducted.

Results: There were 998 major trauma patients with fractures of the pelvis over the study period, of whom 223 had pubic symphysis disruption. There were 29 patients with urethral injuries. The sensitivity of any one of the traditional signs of urethral trauma was 66.7% (95% CI: 46.0-82.8). After exclusion of patients with penetrating trauma and iatrogenic injuries, pubic symphysis disruption on initial pelvis AP X-ray and/or the clinical signs of urethral injury had a sensitivity of 100% (95% CI: 84.4-100.0) for urethral trauma.

Discussion: Reliance on clinical features alone to predict urethral injury results in a substantial proportion of missed injuries in major trauma patients. RUGs did not appear to be needed in patients with no disruption of the pubic symphysis on initial pelvis X-ray or where no signs of urethral injury are present. In the absence of clinical signs and pubic symphysis disruption, blind urethral catheterisation may be attempted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Emergency Treatment / standards
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Selection
  • Pelvic Bones / injuries
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pubic Symphysis Diastasis / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography
  • Resuscitation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Urethra / injuries*
  • Urethral Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Urethral Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Urethral Diseases / epidemiology
  • Urethral Diseases / etiology
  • Urinary Catheterization / adverse effects