There are many medical specialties, each one with their own field of study. But some of them are commonly misunderstood, as in the case of urologists.
This specialty takes care of the urinary tract, a common structure in men and women. However, the urinary tract shares the same space as the male reproductive organ. That’s why urologists are commonly seen as men’s health specialists.
With this in mind, when to see a urologist? What conditions or symptoms should prompt you to schedule an appointment?
In this article, we’re giving you a few useful tips if you’re considering visiting your specialist and tell you what you should expect about it.
Overview of male urology
Male urology has the same structures as that of women, except for the length of the urethra, the penis, and the prostate gland. We are talking about the urinary system, which comprises two kidneys, two ureters that drain into one bladder, and one urethra.
The function of the urinary tract is to store urine and eliminate this fluid when it is necessary. Along with the kidneys, the urinary tract maintains the proper balance of chemicals and water in the organism. The main focus of urologists has to do with the urinary tract.
Conversely, conditions of the kidneys are usually evaluated by nephrologists. Sometimes, these two specialists join in solving problems and complete procedures.
In males, the scrotum and the testes are also assessed by a urologist. However, they usually evaluate the structure and sometimes deal with its function (1).
To name a few, the most common urological conditions are (1):
- Kidney stones
- Overactive bladder
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinary tract infections (bladder infections and others)
- Bladder cancer and other urological conditions
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, an enlarged prostate)
- Prostate cancer
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low testosterone levels
- Male infertility
- Undescended testicles
- Testicular cancer
- Pelvic organ prolapse (Vaginal prolapse)
- Pelvic pain
Who should see a urologist?
As noted above, a urologist specialty field is vast, not only concerning men’s health. The most common patients in a urologist consultation are kidney stone patients, both men and women. But there are many other urologic conditions.
Kidney stones are very large or cause frequent visits to the emergency room. Urologists are trained to perform procedures that destroy or remove kidney stones from the urinary tract.
However, they are more famous as men’s health specialists. Urologists detect and treat BPH, prostate cancer, prostatitis and erectile dysfunction, fertility problems. They evaluate the testis, too, and try to detect abnormal masses or undescended testes. Most male patients in this group are either screening for prostate cancer or solving their BPH and urinary issues (1,2).
When to see a urologist
A urologist is a specialist you need to visit if you have one of these symptoms or a combination (3):
- Blood in the urine: Most patients with blood in the urine have kidney stones or a urinary infection. It is also a symptom of prostate cancer, urinary infections, and other ailments.
- Burning sensation when urinating: This is the typical symptom of a urinary tract infection. They are uncommon in males and should be evaluated by a urologist if they are widespread in women. Still, a recurring urinary tract infection should be investigated promptly.
- Increase in urinary frequency: This symptom is prevalent in men as they age. It is a symptom of BPH and usually wakes patients in the middle of the night to urinate. This is known as nocturia, and it is one of the earliest symptoms in benign prostatic hyperplasia. An increase in urinary frequency is also common in cases of infection.
- Urinary incontinence: It is more common in women, sometimes associated with vaginal prolapse. Urinary incontinence may also appear in males with BPH.
- Erectile dysfunction: It is also a frequent cause of visits to the urologist among males. The cause may range from psychological reasons to structural defects in the penis.
- Fertility problems: Urologists are an appropriate specialist to start evaluating your fertility problems. If necessary, they may refer your case to a fertility clinic.
- Testicular mass or pain: Sudden and severe testicular pain should be evaluated in the emergency room. But if your symptoms are not an emergency, they should be assessed in a scheduled visit to the urologist.
Remember that prostate cancer has no symptoms in the early stage of the disease. Early symptoms are usually disregarded because they are gradual in intensity. Thus, patients tend to get used to urinary symptoms and do not report them to the urologist. That’s why a male visit to the urologist is recommended after 50 years, especially if you have urinary symptoms.
Screening with a urologist for prostate cancer is not usually required. You may talk to your family doctor about your prostate to make sure you’re on the right track. In most cases, urologists receive patients with an elevated PSA. This is the prostate-specific antigen, and it is a common test performed by primary care doctors.
What to expect during a urology visit?
Depending on your condition and the reason for your visit, a urologist may perform different exams.
History taking is fundamental in urology. So, you should expect questions about your symptoms, your family, and their ailments. In the physical exam, and depending on your symptoms, urologists may evaluate the urinary system or male reproductive system.
A digital rectal examination is also a part of the physical exam, though it is not required in all cases. You might also expect an order of lab exams and imaging tests depending on your condition.
After the diagnosis has been made, urologists offer a wide range of treatments. Some of them are oral treatments. In some cases, surgery is required to solve the problem. Sometimes, behavioral therapy (training your bladder control, for instance) works very well (1,4).
Treatment is personalized for each individual patient and his condition.
Tips for maintaining a healthy urological system
Maintaining a healthy urological system is usually not difficult. Consider these tips (5):
- Keep a healthy weight to reduce straining and abdominal pressure on your urinary system
- Get regular exercise, which has been proven to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer and other urologic conditions.
- Stop smoking to reduce inflammation and control your urinary symptoms. It may also reduce the incidence and aggressiveness of the cancer
- Drink plenty of water and limit your salt intake. This reduces water retention and helps your kidneys flush out toxins and kidney stones
- Limit your caffeine intake to prevent irritation in the bladder
- Strengthen your pelvic muscles with exercise, especially yoga and Kegels
Even if you follow these recommendations, you may still experience one of the symptoms above. They are especially common as we age. So, if that happens, do not neglect your condition and schedule your visit to the urologist.
A urologist can evaluate men and women. They are specialized in the urinary system and usually receive cases of kidney stones. The urinary system is overlapped with the reproductive system, especially in males.
That’s why they are the most appropriate specialist to report infertility or symptoms of erectile dysfunction. They specialize in man’s health, including prostate problems, testicular masses, and low testosterone levels.
If you want to know when to see a urologist, it is vital in males to go to the urologist if you start having recurrent urinary infections and related symptoms.
Urinary infections are not as common in males, and they should be evaluated carefully. Also, urinary symptoms may point out at BPH and prostate cancer. So, pay special attention to increased urinary frequency, urinary incontinence, a slow urinary stream, and other symptoms listed above.