Urology is the branch of medicine dedicated to studying the urinary tract and treating its diseases in men and women. In addition, this specialty deals with men's reproductive systems. (Women's reproductive health is the concern of gynecology.) The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Health problems range from kidney stones to venereal diseases to kidney failure. Urologists are qualified to diagnose problems, prescribe medicines and perform surgery.
Some of the most common urinary tract problems are infections. While urine is sterile and free of bacteria, viruses and fungi, infections can occur when bacteria from the digestive tract or other microorganisms cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. E. coli bacteria are normally the culprits. The infection can spread to the bladder, ureters and kidneys. At any stage, these infections are treated with antibacterial drugs.
Kidney stones may be treated with medications that dissolve the stones so that they can be urinated out. Larger stones may require surgical removal. Modern methods include laparoscopic surgery, in which a vacuum tube equipped with a light and a video camera, is inserted in a tiny incision made in the abdomen. Surgeons then literally suck the stones out through the tube aided by video monitors.
Prostate enlargement due to the abnormal growth of benign prostate cells (benign prostatic hyperplasia) occurs in more than 50 percent of US men between 60 and 70, while up to 90 percent of men between 70 and 90 have symptoms which include frequent, difficult and weak urination, blood in urine or semen and lower back pain. The condition is usually not life threatening and treatment such as medications that shrink the prostate gland can relieve the symptoms.
Prostate cancer is also common. In the United States, it is found mainly in men over age 55 and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 72. It may remain in the prostate gland, or it may spread to nearby lymph nodes as well as the bones, bladder, rectum, and other organs. The age factor plus the stage of the disease often determines treatment - in many cases, non-treatment is the best course as the patient simply lives out his life with the condition.
Diagnosing urinary tract problems includes trans-rectal ultrasonography in which a computer translates sound waves into a picture (called a sonogram) of a body part. Intravenous pyelogram provides a series of x-rays of organs. In cystoscopy, an examination is performed by looking into the urethra and bladder through a thin, lighted tube equipped with a video camera.