Urinary Tracts – we all have them, but few of us know how they actually work. The question of how liquids are absorbed and released by our bodies is complex and sometimes confusing. To help you understand the process of how it all works, we must first understand the basic functions of the organs that make up the Urinary System.
Urinary Organs & Functions
Though varying slightly from anatomical sexes, the urinary tract is comprised of four special organs that regulate your body’s levels of salt, minerals and waste. Similar to your lungs and digestive tract, these organs are designed to maintain homeostasis and keep you functioning at your best.
After making its way down from the mouth and through the esophagus, liquids pass through the stomach and are sent through the filtrating material of the kidneys. Unlike other organs found in the abdominal cavity, kidneys are located in your posterior and neighbor the muscles of your back. Composed of tiny filters called nephrons, these two bean-shaped organs are the first stop after separating liquids and solids. The primary function of the kidneys is to filter liquid waste from the blood to form urine. Kidneys remove urea, metabolic wastes, and excess salts and ions to keep your body healthy. Once filtered, this mix creates urine which then moves on to renal tubules.
Narrow tubes known as ureters allow urine to drain from the kidneys to the bladder. Muscles in each ureter contract and relax about every 15 seconds, forcing urine away from the kidneys. Ureters stretch around 10-12 inches, extending slightly into the bladder and are sealed by ureterovesical valves to prevent back ups and possible infection.
The bladder is a hollow, balloon-shaped organ located in the lower abdomen and is held in place by ligaments attached to pelvic bones and other organs. Urine slowly enters the bladder and stretch the elastic walls. A healthy bladder can store up to 16 ounces (2 cups) of urine comfortably for up to 5 hours until it fills. Triggered nerves then tell you when you are ready to go to the bathroom and empty it.
As urine is ready to pass from the bladder, circular muscles called sphincters release and allow urine to flow out of the body. When you urinate, simultaneous signals sent to the brain relax sphincters and tighten around the bladder forcing urine out. As liquid is released, sphincters contract again preventing unwelcomed leaks.
Depending on anatomical sex, urethras present themselves in different ways. For females, the urethra tube is about 2 inches long and expels from a small hole beneath the clitoris and above the vagina. In males, the urethra is around 8-10 inches long and ends at the tip of the penis.
Common Urinary Health Related Issues
Among the top causes of problems in the urinary system, aging, illness, and injury are the most common. As you age, changes in your body may cause kidneys to lose some of their ability to remove waste from the blood. The muscles in your ureters, bladder and urethra also tend to lose strength- resulting in loss of control of sphincters and pelvic muscles. A change in muscle strength can lead to urinary incontinence or adversely, block the flow of urine. Because disorders of the urinary system range in severity from easily treatable to life threatening, we have outlined some of the most common disorders.
Loss of bladder control and the involuntary passage of urine is referred to as urinary incontinence. There are many causes and types of incontinence, with many treatment options available. Treatments range from simple exercises to surgery depending on severity. People who suffer from sudden and intense urges to urinate may have what’s called urge incontinence. Total incontinence is the constant periodic uncontrollable leaking of large volumes of urine or leaking of urine day and night. Some may experience what is referred to as mixed incontinence, which is the symptoms of more than one type of urinary incontinence such as stress and urge incontinence. Although more common with older individuals, urinary incontinence is not inevitable and can easily be treated.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
UTIs can develop in any part of your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys. Caused by a bacterial infection, urinary tract infections are highly common but can be treated with antibiotics. The type of UTI depends on its location in the urinary tract. An infection in the bladder is called cystitis while an infection of one or both of the kidneys is called pyelonephritis. Women are more likely to develop a UTI than men with about 8.1 million visits to health care providers every year.
Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS)
Also referred to as frequency-urgency-dysuria syndrome, PBS is a chronic bladder disorder where the bladder wall can often become inflamed and irritated. This inflammation can lead to stiffening and scarring of the bladder, decreased bladder capacity, pinpoint bleeding, and, in severe cases, ulcers in the bladder lining.
Both nonsurgical and surgical treatments are used to treat kidney stones.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Affecting most men over 60, benign prostatic hyperplasia is the enlargement of the prostate gland- which is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate is located at the bottom of the bladder and surrounds the urethra. BPH causes blockage by squeezing the urethra, making it difficult to urinate. Men with BPH frequently have other bladder symptoms including an increase in frequency of emptying the bladder both during the day and at night.
Similar to BPH, prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland. Prostatitis may result in increased frequency and urgency emptying the bladder, burning or painful urination, and pain in the lower back and genital area. The most common forms of prostatitis are caused by bacterial infections and are treatable with antibiotics.
Proteinuria is the presence of abnormal amounts of protein in the urine. Healthy kidneys filter wastes from the blood, leaving the proteins. While protein in the urine does not necessarily cause any problems on its own, proteinuria may be a sign that your kidneys are not working properly.
Renal Failure occurs when your kidneys are not able to regulate water, minerals, or completely remove waste from your blood. Acute renal failure (ARF) is the sudden onset of kidney failure. ARF can be caused by injury to the kidneys, loss of blood, or certain drugs and poisons. If not seriously damaged, kidneys may recover but acute renal failure can potentially lead to permanent loss of kidney function. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the gradual reduction of kidney function that may lead to permanent kidney failure. End-stage renal disease (ESRD) occurs when CKD reaches an advanced state. During ESRD, your kidneys are no longer able to work as they should to meet your body’s needs and dialysis or a kidney transplant are necessary to stay alive.
Board Certified Urologist in Livingston, NJ
For all questions regarding the urinary system, look no further than Ron S Israeli MD, PC. With decades of experience in urology, Dr Israeli will help you identify the root causes of your pain or discomfort and walk you through the best treatment plan. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at (973) 251-2055 or visit our website. If you are experiencing frequent or painful urination, contact us immediately!