Category Archives: Urinary System

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 are also good options. They both contain citrate, which may prevent stones from forming.

Try to drink around eight glasses of fluids daily, or enough to pass two liters of urine. If you exercise or sweat a lot, or if you have a history of cystine stones, you’ll need additional fluids.

You can tell whether you’re hydrated by looking at the color of your urine — it should be clear or pale yellow. If it’s dark, you need to drink more.

2. Eat more calcium-rich foods

The most common type of kidney stone is the calcium oxalate stone, leading many people to believe they should avoid eating calcium. The opposite is true. Low-calcium diets may increase your kidney stone risk and your risk of osteoporosis.

Calcium supplements, however, may increase your risk of stones. Taking calcium supplements with a meal may help reduce that risk.

Low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat yogurt are all good calcium-rich food options.

3. Eat less sodium

A high-salt diet increases your risk of calcium kidney stones. According to the Urology Care Foundation, too much salt in the urine prevents calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood. This causes high urine calcium, which may lead to kidney stones.

Eating less salt helps keep urine calcium levels lower. The lower the urine calcium, the lower the risk of developing kidney stones.

To reduce your sodium intake, read food labels carefully.

Foods notorious for being high in sodium include:

  • processed foods, such as chips and crackers
  • canned soups
  • canned vegetables
  • lunch meat
  • condiments
  • foods that contain monosodium glutamate
  • foods that contain sodium nitrate
  • foods that contain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

To flavor foods without using salt, try fresh herbs or a salt-free, herbal seasoning blend.

4. Eat fewer oxalate-rich foods

Some kidney stones are made of oxalate, a natural compound found in foods that binds with calcium in the urine to form kidney stones. Limiting oxalate-rich foods may help prevent the stones from forming.

Foods high in oxalates are:

  • spinach
  • chocolate
  • sweet potatoes
  • coffee
  • beets
  • peanuts
  • rhubarb
  • soy products
  • wheat bran

Oxalate and calcium bind together in the digestive tract before reaching the kidneys, so it’s harder for stones to form if you eat high-oxalate foods and calcium-rich foods at the same time.

5. Eat less animal protein

Foods high in animal protein are acidic and may increase urine acid. High urine acid may cause both uric acid and calcium oxalate kidney stones.

You should try to limit or avoid:

  • beef
  • poultry
  • fish
  • pork

6. Avoid vitamin C supplements

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplementation may cause kidney stones, especially in men.

According to one 2013 study, men who took high doses of vitamin C supplements doubled their risk of forming a kidney stone. Researchers don’t believe vitamin C from food carries the same risk.

7. Explore herbal remedies

Chanca Piedra, also known as the “stone breaker,” is a popular herbal folk remedy for kidney stones. The herb is thought to help prevent calcium-oxalate stones from forming. It’s also believed to reduce the size of existing stones.

Use herbal remedies with caution. They’re not well-regulated or well-researched for the prevention or treatment of kidney stones.

How to prevent kidney stones with medication

In some cases, switching up your dietary choices may not be enough to prevent kidney stones from forming. If you have recurrent stones, talk to your doctor about what role medication can play in your prevention plan.

8. Talk to your doctor about the medications you’re currently taking

Taking certain prescriptions or over-the-counter medications can result in kidney stones.

Some of these medications are:

  • decongestants
  • diuretics
  • protease inhibitors
  • anticonvulsants
  • steroids
  • chemotherapy drugs
  • uricosuric drugs

The longer you take these drugs, the higher your risk of kidney stones. If you’re taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor about other medication options. You shouldn’t stop taking any prescribed medications without your doctor’s approval.

9. Talk to your doctor about preventative medications

If you’re prone to certain types of kidney stones, certain medications can help control the amount of that material present in your urine. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the type of stones you usually get.

For example:

  • If you get calcium stones, a thiazide diuretic or phosphate may be beneficial.
  • If you get uric acid stones, allopurinol (Zyloprim) can help reduce uric acid in your blood or urine.
  • If you get struvite stones, long-term antibiotics may be used to help reduce the amount of bacteria present in your urine
  • If you get cystine stones, capoten (Captopril) may help reduce the level of cystine in your urine

The bottom line

Kidney stones are common. There’s no guarantee that prevention methods will work, but they may reduce your risk. Your best bet for preventing kidney stones is staying hydrated and making certain dietary changes.

If you have a condition that increases your risk of kidney stones, such as inflammatory bowel disease, persistent urinary tract infection, or obesity, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it to decrease your kidney stone risk.

If you’ve passed a kidney stone before, ask your doctor to have it tested. Once you know what type of stone you’ve had, you can take targeted steps to prevent new ones from forming.

Urinary Tract Infection: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection from microbes. These are organisms that are too small to be seen without a microscope. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria, but some are caused by fungi and in rare cases by viruses. UTIs are among the most common infections in humans.

A UTI can happen anywhere in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract is made up of your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs only involve the urethra and bladder, in the lower tract. However, UTIs can involve the ureters and kidneys, in the upper tract. Although upper tract UTIs are more rare than lower tract UTIs, they’re also usually more severe.

UTI symptoms

Symptoms of a UTI depend on what part of the urinary tract is infected.

Lower tract UTIs affect the urethra and bladder. Symptoms of a lower tract UTI include:

  • burning with urination
  • increased frequency of urination without passing much urine
  • increased urgency of urination
  • bloody urine
  • cloudy urine
  • urine that looks like cola or tea
  • urine that has a strong odor
  • pelvic pain in women
  • rectal pain in men

Upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys. These can be potentially life threatening if bacteria move from the infected kidney into the blood. This condition, called urosepsis, can cause dangerously low blood pressure, shock, and death.

Symptoms of an upper tract UTI include:

  • pain and tenderness in the upper back and sides
  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

UTI symptoms in men

Symptoms of an upper tract urinary infection in men are similar to those in women. Symptoms of a lower tract urinary infection in men sometimes includes rectal pain in addition to the common symptoms shared by both men and women.

UTI symptoms in women

Women with a lower tract urinary infection may experience pelvic pain. This is in addition to the other common symptoms. Symptoms of upper tract infections among both men and women are similar.

UTI treatment

Treatment of UTIs depends on the cause. Your doctor will be able to determine which organism is causing the infection from the test results used to confirm the diagnosis.

In most cases, the cause is bacteria. UTIs caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics.

In some cases, viruses or fungi are the causes. Viral UTIs are treated with medications called antivirals. Often, the antiviral cidofovir is the choice to treat viral UTIs. Fungal UTIs are treated with medications called antifungals.

Antibiotics for a UTI

The form of antibiotic used to treat a bacterial UTI usually depends on what part of the tract is involved. Lower tract UTIs can usually be treated with oral antibiotics. Upper tract UTIs require intravenous antibiotics. These antibiotics are put directly into your veins.

Sometimes, bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. Results from your urine culture can help your doctor select an antibiotic treatment that will work best against the type of bacteria that’s causing your infection.

Treatments other than antibiotics for bacterial UTIs are being examined. At some point, UTI treatment without antibiotics may be an option for bacterial UTIs by using cell chemistry to change the interaction between the body and the bacteria.

Home remedies for a UTI

There are no home remedies that can cure a UTI, but there are some things that you can do to help your medication work better.

These home remedies for UTIs may help your body clear the infection faster. Cranberry juice or cranberries don’t treat a UTI once it’s started. However, a chemical in cranberries may help prevent certain types of bacteria that can cause a bacterial UTI from attaching to the lining of your bladder. This may be helpful in preventing future UTIs.

Untreated UTIs

It’s important to treat a UTI — the earlier, the better. Untreated UTIs become more and more severe the further they spread. A UTI is usually easiest to treat in the lower urinary tract. An infection that spreads to the upper urinary tract is much more difficult to treat and is more likely to spread into your blood, causing sepsis. This is a life-threatening event.

If you suspect that you have a UTI, contact your doctor as soon as possible. A simple examination and urine or blood test could save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

UTI diagnosis

If you suspect that you have a UTI based on your symptoms, contact your doctor. Your doctor will review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. To confirm a diagnosis of a UTI, your doctor will need to test your urine for microbes.

The urine sample that you give your doctor needs to be a “clean catch” sample. This means the urine sample is collected at the middle of your urinary stream, rather than at the beginning. This helps to avoid collecting the bacteria or yeast from your skin, which can contaminate the sample. Your doctor will explain to you how to get a clean catch.

When testing the sample, your doctor will look for a large number of white blood cells in your urine. This can indicate an infection. Your doctor will also do a urine culture to test for bacteria or fungi. The culture can help identify the cause of the infection. It can also help your doctor choose which treatment is right for you.

If a virus is suspected, special testing may need to be performed. Viruses are rare causes of UTIs but can be seen in people who have had organ transplants or who have other conditions that weaken their immune system.

Upper tract UTIs

If your doctor suspects that you have an upper tract UTI, they may also need to do a complete blood count (CBC) and blood cultures, in addition to the urine test. A blood culture can make certain that your infection hasn’t spread to your blood stream.

Recurrent UTIs

If you have recurrent UTIs, your doctor may also want to check for any abnormalities or obstructions in your urinary tract. Some tests for this include:

  • An ultrasound, in which a device called a transducer is passed over your abdomen. The transducer uses ultrasound waves to create an image of your urinary tract organs that are displayed on a monitor.
  • An intravenous pyelogram (IVP), which involves injecting a dye into your body that travels through your urinary tract and taking an X-ray of your abdomen. The dye highlights your urinary tract on the X-ray image.
  • A cystoscopy, which uses a small camera that’s inserted through your urethra and up into your bladder to see inside your bladder. During a cystoscopy, your doctor may remove a small piece of bladder tissue and test it to rule out bladder inflammation or cancer as a cause of your symptoms.
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan to get more detailed images of your urinary system.

Causes and risk factors of a UTI

Anything that reduces your bladder emptying or irritates the urinary tract can lead to UTIs. There are also many factors that can put you at an increased risk of a getting a UTI. These factors include:

  • age — older adults are more likely to get UTIs
  • reduced mobility after surgery or prolonged bed rest
  • kidney stones
  • a previous UTI
  • urinary tract obstructions or blockages, such as an enlarged prostate, kidney stones, and certain forms of cancer
  • prolonged use of urinary catheters, which may make it easier for bacteria to get into your bladder
  • diabetes, especially if poorly controlled, which may make it more likely for you to get a UTI
  • pregnancy
  • abnormally developed urinary structures from birth
  • a weakened immune system

Additional UTI risk factors for men

Most UTI risk factors for men are the same as those for women. However, having an enlarged prostate is one risk factor for a UTI that’s unique to men.

Additional UTI risk factors for women

There are additional risk factors for women. Some factors that were once believed to be a cause of UTIs in women have since been shown to not be as important, such as poor bathroom hygiene. Recent studies have failed to show that wiping from back to front after going to the bathroom leads to UTIs in women, like previously believed.

In some cases, certain lifestyle changes may help lessen the risk of some of these factors.

Shorter urethra

The length and location of the urethra in women increases the likelihood of UTIs. The urethra in women is very close to both the vagina and the anus. Bacteria that may naturally occur around both the vagina and anus can lead to infection in the urethra and the rest of the urinary tract.

A woman’s urethra is also shorter than a man’s, and the bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to enter the bladder.

Sexual intercourse

Pressure on the female urinary tract during sexual intercourse can move bacteria from around the anus into the bladder. Most women have bacteria in their urine after intercourse. However, the body can usually get rid of these bacteria within 24 hours. Bowel bacteria may have properties that allow them to stick to the bladder.

Spermicides

Spermicides may increase UTI risk. They can cause skin irritation in some women. This increases the risk of bacteria entering the bladder.

Condom use during sex

Non-lubricated latex condoms may increase friction and irritate the skin of women during sexual intercourse. This may increase the risk of a UTI.

However, condoms are important for reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. To help prevent friction and skin irritation from condoms, be sure to use enough water-based lubricant, and use it often during intercourse.

Diaphragms

Diaphragms may put pressure on a woman’s urethra. This can decrease bladder emptying.

Decrease in estrogen levels

After menopause, a decrease in your estrogen level changes the normal bacteria in your vagina. This can increase the risk of a UTI.

UTI prevention

Everyone can take the following steps to help prevent UTIs:

  • Drink six to eight glasses of water daily.
  • Don’t hold urine for long periods of time.
  • Talk to your doctor about managing any urinary incontinence or difficulties fully emptying your bladder.

However, UTIs happen much more frequently in women than in men. The ratio is 8:1. This means that for every eight women who have UTIs, only one man does.

Certain steps may help prevent UTIs in women. For postmenopausal women, using topical estrogen prescribed by your doctor could make a difference in preventing UTIs. If your doctor believes that intercourse is a factor of your recurrent UTIs, they may recommend taking preventive antibiotics after intercourse, or long-term. Some studies have shown that long-term preventive use of antibiotics in older adults reduced the risk of UTIs.

Taking daily cranberry supplements or using vaginal probiotics, like lactobacillus, may also help in the prevention of UTIs. Some studies suggest that using probiotic vaginal suppositories can decrease the occurrence and recurrence of UTIs, by changing the bacteria found in the vagina.

Be sure to discuss with your doctor what the right prevention plan is for you.

Chronic UTIs

Most UTIs go away after treatment. Chronic UTIs either don’t go away after treatment or keep recurring. Recurrent UTIs are common among women.

Many cases of recurrent UTIs are from reinfection with the same type of bacteria. However, some recurrent cases don’t necessarily involve the same type of bacteria. Instead, an abnormality in the structure of the urinary tract increases the likelihood of UTIs.

UTIs during pregnancy

Women who are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI should see their doctor right away. UTIs during pregnancy can cause high blood pressure and premature delivery. UTIs during pregnancy are also more likely to spread to the kidneys.

Anatomy of the Urinary System

How do the kidneys and urinary system work?

The body takes nutrients from food and converts them to energy. After the body has taken the food components that it needs, waste products are left behind in the bowel and in the blood.

Illustration of the anatomy of the urinary system, front view

The kidney and urinary systems help the body to eliminate liquid waste called urea, and to keep chemicals, such as potassium and sodium, and water in balance. Urea is produced when foods containing protein, such as meat, poultry, and certain vegetables, are broken down in the body. Urea is carried in the bloodstream to the kidneys, where it is removed along with water and other wastes in the form of urine.

Other important functions of the kidneys include blood pressure regulation and the production of erythropoietin, which controls red blood cell production in the bone marrow. Kidneys also regulate the acid-base balance and conserve fluids.

Illustration of the anatomy of the kidney

Kidney and urinary system parts and their functions

  • Two kidneys. This pair of purplish-brown organs is located below the ribs toward the middle of the back. Their function is to remove liquid waste from the blood in the form of urine; keep a stable balance of salts and other substances in the blood; and produce erythropoietin, a hormone that aids the formation of red blood cells. The kidneys remove urea from the blood through tiny filtering units called nephrons. 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.
  • Two ureters. These narrow tubes carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Muscles in the ureter walls continually tighten and relax forcing urine downward, away from the kidneys. If urine backs up, or is allowed to stand still, a kidney infection can develop. About every 10 to 15 seconds, small amounts of urine are emptied into the bladder from the ureters.
  • Bladder. This triangle-shaped, hollow organ is located in the lower abdomen. It is held in place by ligaments that are attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder’s walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra. The typical healthy adult bladder can store up to two cups of urine for two to five hours.
  • Two sphincter muscles. These circular muscles help keep urine from leaking by closing tightly like a rubber band around the opening of the bladder.
  • Nerves in the bladder. The nerves alert a person when it is time to urinate, or empty the bladder.
  • Urethra. This tube allows urine to pass outside the body. The brain signals the bladder muscles to tighten, which squeezes urine out of the bladder. At the same time, the brain signals the sphincter muscles to relax to let urine exit the bladder through the urethra. When all the signals occur in the correct order, normal urination occurs.

Facts about urine

  • Adults pass about a quart and a half of urine each day, depending on the fluids and foods consumed.
  • The volume of urine formed at night is about half that formed in the daytime.
  • Normal urine is sterile. It contains fluids, salts and waste products, but it is free of bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  • The tissues of the bladder are isolated from urine and toxic substances by a coating that discourages bacteria from attaching and growing on the bladder wall.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.