Recently I promised to cover all the systems of the body. So far I’ve covered the: cardiovascular, endocrine, and lymphatic systems. In this article, I will be covering all about the urinary system.
What is the Urinary System?
The urinary system, (aka the renal system), generates, stores and eliminates urine, the fluid waste excreted by the kidneys. The kidneys turn out urine by filtering wastes and excess water from blood. Urine travels away from the kidneys through two delicate tubes called ureters and fills the bladder.
The purpose is to eliminate waste from the body, regulate blood level and blood pressure which is the force that blood travels through the veins and arteries, control levels of electrolytes and metabolites, and regulate blood pH. It is the system that filters the blood of waste leaving it clean and vibrant.
What are the Organs of the Urinary System?
The urinary system is composed of the kidneys, urinary bladder, ureters, and urethra. The kidneys form the urine and account for the other functions ascribed to the urinary system.
How Does the Urinary System Work?
The urinary system removes a type of metabolic waste called urea from your blood. Urea is formed once foods containing protein, such as meat, poultry, and certain vegetables, are broken down in the body. Urea is carried within the blood to the kidneys.
Kidneys – The kidneys are twin bean shaped organs about the size of a fist. They are close to the center of the back, just below the rib cage. The kidneys extract urea from the blood through tiny filtering units called nephrons.
Urea, in conjunction with water and alternative 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.
Ureters – The ureters ar approximately eight to ten inches long. Muscles in the ureter walls constantly constrict and release to force urine descending away from the kidneys. If urine is allowed to stagnate, or reverse, a kidney infection can develop. Small amounts of this waste water are drained into the bladder from the ureters about every ten to fifteen seconds.
Bladder – The bladder is a sunken sturdy organ shaped like a balloon. It sits in the pelvis and is held in place by ligaments attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder contains urine until an individual is ready to go to empty it in the bathroom (urination). It expands into a round shape when it is full and contracts when empty. With a healthy system, the bladder can hold up to 16 ounces (2 cups) of urine comfortably for 2 to 5 hours.
Circular muscles called sphincters help keep urine from escaping. The sphincter muscles contract tightly like a rubber band around the opening of the bladder into the urethra, the passageway that allows urine to pass out of the body.
Nerves in the bladder indicate to an individual when it is time to urinate, or empty the bladder. As the bladder first fills with urine, one may notice a feeling indicating that there is a need to urinate. The indication to urinate becomes stronger as the bladder continues to fill and reaches its limit. At that point, nerves of the bladder sends a message to the brain that the bladder is full and the urge to empty the bladder intensifies.
When you urination takes place, the brain signals the bladder muscles to tighten, squeezing urine out of the bladder. Simultaneously, the brain signals the sphincter muscles to relax. As these muscles relax, urine leaves the bladder through the urethra. When all the signals within the correct order are completed, regular elimination occurs.
Problems of the Urinary System
Problems of the urinary system can be caused by illness, injury, or aging. As we get older, changes in the structure of the kidneys cause them to lose some of their ability to remove wastes from the blood. Also, the muscles in the ureters, bladder, and urethra tend to lose some of their tone and vigor. An individual may have more urinary infections because the bladder muscles don’t tighten enough to empty the bladder completely. A decrease in strength of muscles of the sphincters and the pelvis can in addition cause incontinence, which is the unwanted leakage of urine. Illness or injury can also prevent the kidneys from cleansing and filtering the blood completely or obstruct the passage of urine.
Disorders of the urinary system range from easy to treat to the threat of life.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – is a condition in men that affects the prostate gland, which is part of the male reproductive system. For more information on BPH and the prostate on this website, review the article: All about the Prostate.
Painful bladder syndrome/Interstitial cystitis (PBS/IC) – is a persistent bladder disorder also known as frequency-urgency-dysuria syndrome. In this ailment, the bladder wall will become inflamed and irritated. The inflammation can lead to scarring and hardening of the bladder, diminished bladder capacity, pinpoint bleeding, and, in unusual cases, ulcers in the bladder lining. The cause is unknown at this time.
Kidney stones – are stones, or calculi, in the urinary system. The stones form in the kidneys and can be found anywhere in the urinary system. They vary in size. Some stones cause great pain while others hardly cause any at all. The goal of treatment is to remove the stones, prevent infection, and prevent recurrence. Both nonsurgical and surgical treatments are used. For unknown reasons, kidney stones affect men more often than women.
Prostatitis – is inflammation of the prostate gland. For more information on this condition of the prostate, please review the article, All about the Prostate, on this website.
Proteinuria – is the presence of higher than normal amounts of protein in the urine. Healthy kidneys take wastes out of the blood but leave in protein. Protein in the urine does not cause a problem by itself. But it can be a sign that one’s kidneys are not working properly.
Renal (kidney) failure – occurs when the kidneys are unable to manage water and chemicals in the body or remove waste products from the blood. Acute renal failure (ARF) is the abrupt start of kidney failure. This condition can be caused by a calamity that damages the kidneys, loss of an excessive amount of blood, or some drugs or poisons. ARF may lead to permanent loss of kidney performance. However, if the kidneys are not seriously damaged, they may recover. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the slow reduction of kidney function that could lead to permanent kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). An individual may go several years without knowing they have CKD.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) – are caused by bacteria in the urinary tract. Adult females contract this condition more often than men. UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Drinking lots of fluids also helps by flushing out the bacteria.
The name of the UTI depends on its location in the urinary tract. An infection in the bladder is called cystitis. If the infection is in one or both of the kidneys, the infection is called pyelonephritis. This type of UTI can cause serious damage to the kidneys if it is not adequately treated.
Urinary incontinence – this is loss of bladder control. It is the involuntary passage of urine. There are many causes and types of incontinence, and many treatment options. Treatments can range from simple exercises to surgery. Adult females are affected by this condition more often than men.
Urinary retention – this is bladder-emptying problems, which is a common urological problem with many possible causes. Normally, urination can be initiated voluntarily and the bladder empties completely. Urinary retention is the abnormal holding of urine in the bladder. Acute urinary retention is the sudden inability to urinate, causing pain and discomfort.
Getting Help with Urinary Problems
A general practitioner or primary doctor may help with some urinary problems. However, some problems may require the attention of a urologist, which is a doctor who specializes in treating problems of the urinary system and the male reproductive system. A gynecologist is a specialist who specializes in the female reproductive system and may be able to help with some urinary problems. An urogynecologist is a specialized gynecologist who specializes in the female urinary system. A nephrologist specializes in treating diseases of the kidney.
How to Maintain a Healthy Urinary System
1. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day in order to keep a normal urinary pattern. This works to remove any waste products in your system.
2. Don’t prolong discharging urine. Withholding urination puts added pressure on the bladder which can lead to infection.
3. Avoid foods that can irritate the bladder. For an overactive or sensitive bladder, avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks.
4. Practice good hygiene by avoiding harsh soaps and shower thoroughly after swimming in pools or lakes
5. Seek medical help if you suspect something is wrong.
Please feel free to leave any question, comment or concern below.