What is a urologist?
A urologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the urinary system. This system keeps the body clean by filtering out wastes and toxins and taking them out of the body. The urinary tract includes:
A urologist also treats conditions involving the reproductive organs and the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. The reproductive systems of males and females are linked closely to their urinary systems. You might hear someone use the word “genitourinary.” This refers to symptoms, conditions or treatments that affect both systems.
Difference between urology and nephrology
If you want to see a doctor who specializes only in the kidneys, you’d make an appointment with a nephrologist. Nephrology is considered a subspecialty, but it’s a subspecialty of internal medicine rather than urology. This means that nephrologists aren’t surgeons. Nephrologists must also be able to manage conditions that happen elsewhere in the body that cause kidney problems or happen because of kidney problems, like high blood pressure. Urologists, on the other hand, are surgeons.
How does someone become a urologist?
In order to become a urologist, you must first get a bachelor’s degree and then pass the Medical College Admissions Test in order to get into a medical school. It usually takes about four years to earn a medical degree.
From there, you spend five to six years in a residency program. During this time you will get training in both surgical and medical treatments of urologic diseases.
After that, if you want to specialize in a certain narrower field, you’ll need to complete a fellowship that may last another one to three years.
After a residency, you may choose to become board-certified from the American Board of Urology.
Then, in order to actually practice as a doctor, you’ll need to take and pass your state medical examination and meet any guidelines that the medical board has issued.
What conditions do urologists treat?
Urologists treat common conditions and rarer illnesses that affect everyone and some that affect only men or only women. Some of these conditions include:
- Frequent urinary tract infections.
- Inability to control urination (urinary incontinence).
- Blood in the urine (hematuria).
- Conditions of the male reproductive system, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate).
- Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder).
Urologists also treat other conditions, such as:
- Cancers of the bladder, kidneys and prostate.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED).
- Kidney stones.
- Pelvic organ prolapse.
- Congenital urinary tract issues (problems with the urinary tract that you are born with).
Reasons you might see a urologist
You may make an appointment or get a referral to a urologist if you have:
- Trouble urinating (peeing), including getting started or having a strong flow of urine, pain, cloudy urine or blood in the urine.
- Changes in urination, like frequent urination or feeling like you always have to go.
- Trouble getting or keeping an erection.
- A feeling that something is falling down into your vagina or heaviness in that area.
- Pelvic pain.
- Urinating when you don’t want to, like at night or when you sneeze, laugh or exercise.
What does a urologist do?
A urologist can diagnose and treat many kinds of issues. Some urologists might practice without doing surgery, but all urologists are trained as surgeons.
There are subspecialties in urology, including:
- Pediatric urology.
- Urologic oncology.
- Kidney transplantation.
- Sexual medicine.
- Male infertility.
- Genitourinary reconstruction.
- Minimally invasive surgery (robotic, laparoscopic and endoscopic surgery).
What you can expect during your visit to a urologist?
When you make an appointment with a urologist, or when your primary care provider refers you to a urologist, be prepared to discuss why you’re there. It may help for you to bring a list of questions or symptoms related to why you made the appointment. You should also be prepared to answer questions about your medical history and any medications you might be taking.
Your urologist is likely to order tests to diagnose your condition and to determine the best way to treat it.
Some of these tests may include:
- Physical examination. These will be different for males and females. If you’re a man, your doctor may do a rectal exam. If you’re a woman, you may need to have a pelvic exam.
- Urinalysis, blood tests and semen samples. For these tests, you provide samples of your urine, blood and semen. (You might want to make sure you drink some water before you go to your appointment since you might be asked for a urine sample there.)
- Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scans.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you need care for urinary issues, pelvic pain or sexual issues, your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist in these issues, a urologist. The urologist can order tests that will make the diagnosis clear and point the way to treatment. Some people may be embarrassed to talking about urinating or incontinence or other issues related to “down there,” but those same people will probably be glad to know that these conditions are very common, and successful treatment is possible. It’s important to be honest with healthcare providers so they can help you get back to being healthy and enjoying life.
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