Urinary System: Facts, Functions & Diseases

The urinary system, also known as the renal system, produces, stores and eliminates urine, the fluid waste excreted by the kidneys. The kidneys make urine by filtering wastes and extra water from blood. Urine travels from the kidneys through two thin tubes called ureters and fills the bladder. When the bladder is full, a person urinates through the urethra to eliminate the waste.

The urinary system is susceptible to a variety of infections and other problems, including blockages and injuries. These can be treated by a urologist or another health care professional who specializes in the renal system.

Description of the urinary system

The urinary system works with the lungs, skin and intestines to maintain the balance of chemicals and water in the body. Adults eliminate about 27 to 68 fluid ounces (800 to 2,000 milliliters) per day based on typical daily fluid intake of 68 ounces (2 liters), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Other factors in urinary system function include fluid lost through perspiring and breathing. In addition, certain types of medications, such as diuretics that are sometimes used to treat high blood pressure, can also affect the amount of urine a person produces and eliminates. Some beverages, such as coffee and alcohol, can also cause increased urination in some people.

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The primary organs of the urinary system are the kidneys, which are bean-shaped organs that are located just below the rib cage in the middle of the back. The kidneys remove urea — waste product formed by the breakdown of proteins — from the blood through small filtering units called nephrons, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Each nephron consists of a ball formed of small blood capillaries, called a glomerulus, and a small tube called a renal tubule. Urea, together with water and other waste substances, forms the urine as it passes through the nephrons and down the renal tubules of the kidney.

From the kidneys, urine travels down two thin tubes, called ureters, to the bladder. The ureters are about 8 to 10 inches long (20 to 25 centimeters), according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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Muscles in the ureter walls continuously tighten and relax to force urine away from the kidneys, according to the NIH. A backup of urine can cause a kidney infection. Small amounts of urine are emptied into the bladder from the ureters about every 10 to 15 seconds.

The bladder is a hollow, balloon-shaped organ that is located in the pelvis. It is held in place by ligaments attached to other organs and the pelvic bones, according to the Kidney & Urology Foundation of America. The bladder stores urine until the brain signals the bladder that the person is ready to empty it. A normal, healthy bladder can hold up to 16 ounces (almost half a liter) of urine comfortably for two to five hours.

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To prevent leakage, circular muscles called sphincters close tightly around the opening of the bladder into the urethra, the tube that allows urine to pass outside the body. The only difference between the female and male urinary system is the length of the urethra, according to Merck Manuals. In females, the urethra is about 1.5 to 2 inches long (3.8 to 5.1 cm) and sits between the clitoris and the vagina. In males, it is about 8 inches (20 cm) long, runs the length of the penis and opens at the end of the penis. The male urethra is used to eliminate urine as well as semen during ejaculation.

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Diseases of the urinary system

Different specialists treat urinary system ailments. Nephrologists treat kidney diseases, while urologists treat problems with the urinary tract, including the kidneys, adrenal glands, ureters, bladder and urethra, according to the American Urological Association (AUA). Urologists also treat the male reproductive organs, while gynecologists often treat urinary diseases or disorders in females, including yeast infections. Nephrologists and urologists often work with endocrinologists or oncologists, depending on the disease.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract; they can affect the urethra, bladder or even the kidneys. While UTIs are more common in women, they can occur in men. UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics, according to Dr. Oscar Aguirre, a urogynecologist in Denver. In the United States, about 8.1 million people have a urinary tract infection each year, according to the American Urological Association.

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Incontinence is another common disease of the urinary system. “The most common bladder problems I see in my practice in women are frequent urges to urinate and leakage of urine,” said S. Adam Ramin, urologic surgeon and founder of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. “The most common bladder problems in men are frequent urination at nights and incomplete bladder emptying. This is usually due to an enlarged prostate causing obstruction of bladder emptying.”

Problems can come in the form of a pelvic prolapse, which can result in leakage and can be the result of a vaginal delivery. Then there is the overactive bladder, “which we see a lot and is not related to having children or trauma,” Aguirre said. A third condition involves overflow, in which the bladder does not completely empty.

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“Holding your urine for a short period of time, usually up to one hour, is typically okay,” said Ramin. “However protracted and repeated holding of urine may cause over-expansion of bladder capacity, transmission of excess pressure into the kidneys, and the inability to completely empty the bladder. These problems in turn may lead to UTI [urinary tract infection], cystitis and deterioration of kidney function.”

Some common treatments involve medications, physical therapy and pelvic mesh surgery, Aguirre noted. Vaginal laser surgery is also becoming a viable treatment option, he explained. “In another 10 to 15 years, vaginal laser surgery will be another common option for the treatment of urinary conditions.”

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Interstitial cystitis (IC), also called painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic bladder condition, primarily in women, that causes bladder pressure and pain and, sometimes, pelvic pain to varying degrees, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can cause bladder scarring, and can make the bladder less elastic. While the cause isn’t known, many people with the condition also have a defect in their epithelium, the protective lining of the bladder.

Prostatitis is a swelling of the prostate gland and, therefore, can only occur in men. Often caused by advanced age, symptoms include urinary urgency and frequency, pelvic pain and pain during urination, the Mayo Clinic noted.

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Kidney stones are clumps of calcium oxalate that can be found anywhere in the urinary tract. Kidney stones form when chemicals in the urine become concentrated enough to form a solid mass, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They can cause pain in the back and sides, as well as blood in the urine. Many kidney stones can be treated with minimally invasive therapy, such as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, which disintegrates the kidney stones with shock waves.

Kidney failure, also called renal failure and chronic kidney disease, can be a temporary (often acute) condition or can become a chronic condition resulting in the inability of the kidneys to filter waste from the blood. Other conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, can cause chronic kidney disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Acute cases may be caused by trauma or other damage, and may improve over time with treatment. However, renal disease may lead to chronic kidney failure, which may require dialysis treatments or even a kidney transplant.

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Bladder cancer is diagnosed in about 75,000 Americans each year and is more frequent in men and the elderly according. It is predicted that 81,190 new cases of bladder cancer (about 62,380 in men and 18,810 in women) and bout 17,240 deaths from bladder cancer (about 12,520 in men and 4,720 in women) will occur in 2018, according to American Cancer Society. The symptoms, including back or pelvic pain, difficulty urinating and urgent/and or frequent urination, mimic other diseases or disorders of the urinary system.

Hydronephrosis ICD-9: 591 Description Hydronephrosis is the distention of the renal pelvis and calyces of a kidney due to pressure from accumulating urine. The pressure impairs, and may eventually interrupt, kidney function. One or both kidneys may be affected. Etiology Hydronephrosis is caused by a urinary tract obstruction. The ureters and renal pelvis dilate proximal to, or behind, the obstruction. This swelling causes the hydronephrosis with resultant destruction of functional tissue. In children, the obstruction is usually the result of some congenital defect in urinary tract structure. In adults, the obstruction is more often acquired, resulting from blockage by neoplasms or uroliths, commonly called kidney stones or renal calculi. Urinary tract obstruction in men may be produced by benign or malignant enlargement of the prostate. Women may experience urinary tract obstruction as a complication of pregnancy. Underlying disorders such as neurogenic bladder also may allow urine to acc...
9 Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones Kidney stone prevention Kidney stones are hard mineral deposits that form inside your kidneys. They cause excruciating pain when they pass through your urinary tract. Up to 12 percent of Americans are affected by kidney stones. And once you’ve had one kidney stone, you’re 50 percent more likely to get another within the next 10 years. There’s no one sure way to prevent kidney stones, especially if you have a family history of the condition. A combination of diet and lifestyle changes, as well as some medications, may help reduce your risk. How to prevent kidney stones naturally Making small adjustments to your current diet and nutrition plan may go a long way toward preventing kidney stones. 1. Stay hydrated Drinking more water is the best way to prevent kidney stones. If you don’t drink enough, your urine output will be low. Low urine output means your urine is more concentrated and less likely to dissolve urine salts that cause stones. Lemonade and orange juice ...
Urinary system anatomy and physiology review The urinary system is responsible for the production and elimination of urine when a type of waste called urea is removed from the blood. Urea is produced when protein-containing foods are broken down in the body. Urea is carried in the bloodstream to the two kidneys, where urine is formed. The two ureters, the urinary bladder, and the urethra, are responsible for the elimination of urine. Figure illustrates the urinary system in relationship to the body, and Figure illustrates the interior and exterior features of the urinary system organs. FIGURE. The urinary system FIGURE. (A) Frontal section of the right kidney showing internal structures and blood vessels. (B) Magnified section of the kidney shows several nephrons. (From Scanlon, VC, and Sanders, T: Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology, ed 5. FA Davis, Philadelphia, 2007, p 422, with permission.) The kidneys, each about the size of a fist, help to regulate the water, electrolyte (ionized salt), and acid-base content of th...
Can You Have Sex with a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)? Can you have sex with a UTI? Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common. UTIs can develop anywhere in the urinary tract, from the urethra to the kidneys. Symptoms include: a persistent urge to urinate pain when urinating pelvic pain or tenderness Although these symptoms can be irritating, they won’t prevent you from having vaginal sex. That doesn’t mean you’ll feel up to it, though. A UTI can irritate the sensitive tissue in your urinary tract, and sexual activity can irritate those tissues even more. Sexual activity can also increase your risk of complications and potentially put your partner at risk. That’s why doctors usually recommend that you wait to have sex until you’re symptom-free and you’ve finished your entire treatment. It may cause pain and exacerbate other symptoms A UTI may irritate and inflame the sensitive tissues in your urinary tract. Any penetrative object — fingers, a toy, or a penis — can put pressure on the urinary organs during vagi...
Nephrotic syndrome ICD-9: 581.9 Description Nephrotic syndrome is a condition or a complex of signs and symptoms (syndrome) of the basement membrane of the glomerulus. (The basement membrane surrounds each of the many tiny capillaries comprising a glomerulus.) The disease is characterized by severe proteinuria, often to the extent that the body cannot keep up with the protein loss, which is known as hypoalbuminemia. The disease is further characterized by hyperlipemia (excessive levels of fatlike substances called lipids in the blood), lipiduria (lipids in the urine), and generalized edema. Etiology Nephrotic syndrome may result from a variety of disease processes having the capacity to damage the basement membrane of the glomerulus. Between 70% and 75% of the cases of nephrotic syndrome result from some form of glomerulonephritis. The syndrome also may arise as a consequence of diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus, neoplasms, or reactions to drugs or toxins. The disease is occasio...