The urinary tract system is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, sphincter muscles and the urethra. Together, these organs, tubes, muscles and nerves work in conjunction to generate, stow and transport urine. Like most body function systems, the urinary tract is susceptible to disease and malfunction. There are many problems that can occur within the urinary tract system.
The Urinary System (How It Works)
Our bodies absorb nutrients from the foods that we eat. These nutrients are utilized and broken down by the body and eventually they are eliminated as waste products. The urinary system works together with other waste eliminating parts of the body such as the lungs, skin and intestines to insure that the body is free from waste products and functioning with the proper balance of water and chemicals. Each part of the urinary system has its own specific job to ensure this balance is achieved:
- The kidneys. It is the kidneys job to remove urea from the bloodstream. A part of the kidney, called nephrons, acts as filters to remove urea from the blood. Each nephron contains capillaries and a renal tubule. The urea is mixed with water and other components to form urine, which is passed through the nephrons to the renal tubule.
- The Ureters. The ureters are two thin tubes that are responsible for transporting the urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
- The Bladder. The bladder sits in the pelvic area and is the storage unit where urine sits and waits to be emptied when you use the bathroom. The bladder enlarges when it is full and shrinks in size when it gets emptied.
- The Sphincters. The sphincters are rounded muscles that tighten to keep urine from escaping from the bladder. The sphincter muscles clasp tightly together to prevent the flow of urine into the urethra before you are ready to use the bathroom.
- The Urethra. The urethra is the tube that is responsible for allowing urine to pass through and out of the body. When you feel that you have to urinate, the muscles of the bladder constrict, allowing urine to be squeezed out. Simultaneously, the sphincter muscles relax, allowing urine to exit the body as it passes through the urethra.
Urinary System Problems
As long as all of the components of the urinary tract are working properly as a well-oiled machine, then normal urination should occur without any problems. Problems within the urinary tract can occur as a result of illness, injury or aging. As we age, some of the components and muscles within the urinary tract may weaken, causing health issues such as:
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Blockage in the passage of urine
- Insufficient kidney filtering
Urinary System Disorders
There are a wide range of urinary system disorders that can be present within the urinary tract. Some of them are not severe and are relatively easy to treat, while there are others that can be life-threatening. Some disorders that are associated with the urinary tract include:
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): This disorder affects the prostate gland in men. Also referred to as an enlarged prostate, BPH can interfere with a man’s urinary function.
- Painful bladder syndrome/Interstitial cystitis (PBS/IC): This chronic disorder affects the bladder and can cause great pain and discomfort, and leads to inflammation, scarring and a decrease in the amount of urine that the bladder can hold.
- Kidney Stones: Kidney stones are crystalized build-ups of mineral salts. These stones can occur anywhere in the urinary tract and can be painful, though some do not cause any pain at all. The idea is to remove the stones before any infection or blockage occurs.
- Prostatitis: This disorder is characterized as an inflammation in the prostate gland. This inflammation can cause painful urination, and an increase in the frequency to urinate,
- Proteinuria: This disorder refers to the abnormal build-up of protein in a person’s urine. This could be an indication that the kidneys are not functioning as well as they could be.
- Kidney Failure: this refers to the inability of the kidneys to perform their duties, such as removing waste from the blood.
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): A UTI refers to the presence of bacteria in the urinary tract; most times this condition will likely need to be treated with a course of antibiotics.
- Incontinence: This disorder refers to a loss of bladder control and the inability to hold urine.
- Urinary Retention: This refers to the abnormal holding of urine within the bladder, meaning the inability to urinate.
There are many urinary disorders that are common to children, such as:
- Congenial defects of the urinary tract
- Urinary tract problems that are associated with strep throat infection
- Kidney problem that are induced by high blood pressure
- Kidney failure due to bacterial infection or birth defects
Diagnosing A Urinary System Problem
The most predominant test that is used to diagnose a problem in the urinary tract is the urinalysis. Your doctor will ask you to collect your urine in a special container; the collected urine will then be sent to the lab and tested. The tests will indicate any signs of infection or the presence of any irregular substances such as high levels of protein. Another test that your doctor may need to perform in order to diagnose a problem within the urinary tract is an urodynamic test. Your doctor will likely order this test if he suspects that there may be any problems with the bladder, ureters, urethra or sphincter muscles. This test measures the ability of the bladder to constrict and contract as it fills and empties.
If you are experiencing any difficulty urinating or if you suspect that you may have a urinary tract infection or disorder, contact your doctor. While your doctor may be able to perform a urinalysis, you will likely need to visit a urologist to further determine the root of your symptoms if they continue.
The urinary tract is a complex system that is made up of several different components. Typically, all of these components work together to expel waste from our bodies and to produce normal urine function. Sometimes, problems can occur within the urinary tract. These problems can range from mild to severe and even life threatening. If you suspect that you may have a urinary tract disorder, contact your doctor immediately.