You take a bathroom break and find your urine stream has — quite unexpectedly — divided in two. It might sound like a college fraternity party trick, but a split stream is no joke.
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Several underlying problems can cause this symptom, which is much more common in men than in women, says urologist Neel Parekh, MD. If you’re suddenly having trouble aiming, read on to find out what could be going on.
Split stream causes
- Adhesion. This is the most common cause of a double stream, says Dr. Parekh. It happens when the edges of the urethra get temporarily stuck together. The urethra is the tube that carries urine (and also semen, in men) out of the body. This sticky situation is often caused by dry ejaculate that doesn’t fully exit the urethra, gumming up the pipes. Adhesion is not serious and usually clears out within a day or so.
- Urethral stricture. A stricture is a narrowing of the urethra. It’s usually the result of long-term inflammation or scar tissue, which is caused by an injury or sexually transmitted infection. It can also develop after you’ve had a surgical procedure or catheter placed through the urethra. Other signs of a stricture include pain during urination, straining to go and urinary tract infections.
- Meatal stenosis. The opening at the tip of the penis can become partly blocked, a condition known as meatal stenosis. It’s often linked to circumcision and is rare in boys and men who haven’t been circumcised. Besides an unwieldy urine stream, symptoms of meatal stenosis include difficulty urinating and pain or burning when you go.
- Phimosis. For some men, a too-tight foreskin — known as phimosis — can cause problems including pain, infections and a split urine stream.
- Enlarged prostate. It’s common for men to develop an enlarged prostate gland as they get older. The condition can cause a variety of bathroom-related symptoms, including frequent urination, straining to urinate, dribbling, incontinence and a weak or divided urine stream.
- Urethral polyps. While other causes of a split stream affect men, polyps can cause this symptom in girls and women. Polyps are small, benign growths in the urethra. They’re rare but more common in women than in men. (Thanks to bathroom logistics, it can be harder for women to identify a split stream — but they might notice a messier spray.)
Should you be worried?
If your urine stream suddenly parts like the Red Sea, there’s no need to panic. These conditions can be treated with medications or surgery, depending on the cause, says Dr. Parekh. Still, some can be serious.
“The most worrisome thing is that the obstruction might prevent you from completely emptying your bladder,” he says. “That can cause downstream problems for the bladder and kidneys.”
If a divided pee stream returns to normal within a day or so, it was probably a temporary blockage and not cause for concern. But if you continue to see double, a urologist can help you get back in the flow.