A woman’s anatomy is designed to accomplish a variety of complex functions. Yet when many people think about the systems that make up the female urologic and reproductive functions, they envision them as one network. This would imply they need only one doctor.
But physiologically, these systems of the female body are quite different, regardless of their proximity. They don’t necessarily interact or require the same treatments. Therefore, when it comes to care, they require different experts: urologists and gynecologists.
I suspect this miscomprehension is due, in part, to the fact that so many women at a young age begin seeing a gynecology specialist for purposes of family planning. Few women visit a urologist, however, unless they experience symptoms of a urological condition, of which there are many. Let’s explore the difference between a gynecologist and a urologist.
Urologists Largely Treat Urinary Organs and Issues
In general, a urologist specializes in anything pertaining to the urinary tract – the kidneys, ureters (the ducts between the kidneys and bladder), bladder, and urethra. Conditions include:
- Kidney stones – Stones occur when the minerals and salts in the urine form into crystals while in the kidneys. If they become large, stones can lodge in the ureter and cause urine to back up into the organs, resulting in acute pain.
- Overactive bladder – OAB is a constellation of symptoms including urinary frequency, waking up at night to void, and an urge to void that is difficult to suppress. OAB indicates the bladder muscles are contracting before the bladder is full. It can be due to a number of conditions, including urinary tract infections, aging, certain neurologic diseases, and dysfunction of pelvic floor muscles.
- Incontinence – Often lumped in with overactive bladder, incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. It is twice as common among women than men because of the lead causes, which include childbirth and menopause.
- Urinary tract infections – UTIs occur when bacteria gets into the urinary tract, potentially leading to an infection in the urethra, bladder, ureter, and kidneys. Sometimes, frequent UTIs are an indication of urinary tract abnormalities such as kidney stones or poor bladder emptying.
- Neurologic diseases of the bladder – Nerve damage could compromise the body’s ability to communicate functions, including how the bladder empties. Various conditions, including a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, can cause this.
- Hematuria – The presence of blood in the urine indicates bleeding from the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. Although it is not often serious, blood in the urine could be a sign of stones, bladder cancer, or kidney cancer.
Gynecologists Largely Treat Reproductive Organs
Gynecologists, on the other hand, specialize in conditions of the vagina, uterus, and ovaries, such as:
- Yeast infections – This vaginal fungal infection results from an imbalance of the body’s yeast and bacteria. As a result, yeast cells multiply and cause intense itching, irritation, and swelling.
- Ovarian or uterine cancers – When cells grow abnormally out of control, they can form into tumors that become cancerous. Ovarian and uterine cancers involve organs of the reproductive system, not the urologic system.
- Menstrual issues – Heavy bleeding, acute menstrual pain, and skipped periods can be signs of other conditions in the reproductive system.
Some “Gray” Treatment Areas
The line between these two specialties blurs a bit when it comes to certain conditions, such as vaginal prolapse (pelvic floor weakness) and incontinence, both areas that could be treated by a urologist or urogynecologist.
A urologist, however, is specially trained and continually educated on all conditions and procedures involving the care of overactive bladder, UTIs, hematuria, stones, and other conditions specific to the urinary tract.
The guidelines we advise is for the patient to see the doctor she trusts the most, the one with whom she has a history of good care and who has expertise in her particular condition. When one looks at the systems of the female body as separate networks with distinct functions, the need for a specialist makes perfect sense.