Umbrella test

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39086.914977.1F (Published 11 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:58

Urethral dilator is real enough

  1. David L Bradford, visiting medical officer
  1. 1Cairns Sexual Health Clinic, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia [email protected]

    Judging by the number of new male patients who mention it, the umbrella myth still has great currency in Australia.1

    I think Bamber is correct when he says that the umbrella test may not be an urban myth.2 The old urethral dilator complete with turning knob at the top, a dial and pointer, and three steel spines that expanded or retracted depending on how far the knob was turned was a fearsome enough instrument to found a myth of such longevity. I have one in my possession and it looks more like an instrument of torture than a surgical device (figure).


    Urethral dilator—not an instrument of torture

    The director of the Melbourne Clinic in the 1970s (my predecessor) told me he believed in using it “as a last resort” in the treatment of recalcitrant non-specific urethritis. He said patients never came back after the treatment so “they must have been cured.” I am unsure whether he ever actually used it, or merely exhibited the instrument to the horrified gaze of the hapless patient.


    • Competing interests: None declared.


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