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Hypospadias and Epispadias

Overview :

In a male, the external opening of the urinary tract (external meatus) is normally located at the tip of the penis. In a female, it is normally located between the clitoris and the vagina.

In males with hypospadias, the urethra opens on the inferior surface or underside of the penis. In females with hypospadias, the urethra opens into the cavity of the vagina.

In males with epispadias, the urethra opens on the superior surface or upper side of the penis. In females with epispadias, there is a crack or fissure in the wall of the urethra and out of the body through an opening in the skin above the clitoris.

During the embryological development of males, a groove of tissue folds inward and then fuses to form a tube that becomes the urethra. Hypospadias occurs when the tube does not form or does not fuse completely. Epispadias is due to a defect in the tissue that folds inward to form the urethra.

During the development of a female, similar processes occur to form the urethra. The problem usually is insufficient length of the tube that becomes the urethra. As a result, the urethra opens in an abnormal location, resulting in a hypospadias. Occasionally, fissures form in the bladder. These may extend to the surface of the abdomen and fuse with the adjacent skin. This most often is identified as a defect in the bladder although it is technically an epispadias.

Hypospadias in males generally occur alone. Female hypospadias may be associated with abnormalities of the genital tract, since the urinary and genital tracts are formed in the same embryonic process.

Because it represents incomplete development of the penis, some experts think that insufficient male hormone may be responsible for hypospadias.

In males, the incidence of hypospadias is approximately one per 250 to 300 live births. Epispadias is much less common, having an incidence of about one per 100,000 live male births.

In females, hypospadias is much less common than in males. It appears about once in every 500,000 live female births. Epispadias is even rarer. Reliable estimates of the prevalence of epispadias in females are not available. Epispadias in females is often diagnosed and recorded as a bladder anomaly.

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