If something goes wrong with your urinary tract -- your body's system for getting rid of your pee -- you may need to see a special doctor called a urologist. They're experts who can treat problems that range from kidney stones to cancer.
What Is a Urologist?
Your urologist knows all about the urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters (thin muscles that carry pee into your bladder) and urethra (tube that drains pee out of your bladder.)
Urologists also treat a man's reproductive system, which includes the penis, testes, scrotum, and prostate.
A urologist could even serve as your primary doctor if you have:
- Regular problems with kidney stones
- Prostate cancer
- Long-term problems with holding your urine
What Kind of Training Does a Urologist Have?
Besides 4 years of medical school, urologists have at least 5 more years of special training focused on the urinary tract and male reproductive system.
Some urologists narrow their specialty to one area of care, such as things like cancer, women's urology, children's urology, male infertility, sexual health, kidney stones, or reconstructive urology.
Urologists must pass an exam and earn board certification from the American Board of Urology.
Why Would You See a Urologist?
A urologist might treat bladder problems, urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder and kidney cancer, kidney blockage, and kidney stones.
Men might also see them for:
Women might also see a urologist for
- Problems holding your pee after pregnancy
- Pelvic organ prolapse (when an organ like the uterus or bladder starts to drop or press into or out of the vagina)
Children might need to see a urologist if they have an abnormal urinary tract problem like bedwetting.
What Can I Expect in a Visit?
Your first appointment with a urologist may not be different from a visit with your primary doctor. You’ll fill out forms and answer questions about your health history, current symptoms, and any medicines you take.
The urologist will do a physical exam that includes a genital and rectal exam. They may also order blood work or imaging tests, like a CT scan or ultrasound, for a closer look at your organs.
What Treatments Can a Urologist Offer?
Urologists can prescribe medicines and offer what’s called "behavior training." For instance, you can manage some problems with holding in your urine by doing exercises that strengthen your pelvic muscles.
Urologists can also do a range of procedures. Some of these they'll do in their office. Others are major surgeries done in a hospital.
A few common procedures include:
Cystoscopy. This is a close-up look at your bladder and urethra with a special telescope-like tool called a cystoscope.
Ureteroscopy. Similar to cystoscopy, it's a look inside your ureters and kidneys.
Prostate biopsy. The urologist removes a tiny tissue sample from your prostate to test for cancer in a lab.
Nephrectomy. This is surgery to remove a kidney to treat cancer.
Vasectomy. The urologist cuts the tubes that carry sperm to prevent pregnancy.
When Should You See a Urologist?
In some cases, your regular doctor may be able to treat mild urinary tract problems. But if your symptoms are severe or don’t go away, you’ll need to see a urologist.
Some of the signs include:
- Blood in your urine
- Loss of bladder control
- Pain when you pee
- Pain in your lower back, stomach, or groin (which can mean kidney stones)
- Trouble having or keeping an erection
- Enlarged prostate
- Cancers of the urinary tract
Make sure to check with your health insurer. Many health plans want you to get a referral from your primary care doctor to see a urologist.