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What Are the Different Types of Problems with the Urinary System?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 17, 2024
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Infections, obstructions, and disease processes can cause problems with the urinary system. Due to the difference in female and male anatomy, some problems arise more in members of one sex than another. Studies suggest that women experience more bladder infections and urinary incontinence while kidney stones are, more often, a problem for men. Many older men experience prostate problems.

The urinary or excretory system consists of the kidneys, which are connected to ureters, that are attached to the distal end to the bladder. The bladder releases urine through the urethra. Inside the kidneys, blood passes through the glomeruli, small capillaries in a network of nephrons. The blood passes through the kidneys carrying the microscopic byproducts of food and drug metabolism that the body does not require. The complex filtering system of the kidneys removes the waste products from the blood and disposes of the substances in urine. The kidneys also balance electrolytes and fluids as required by the body.

Problems with the urinary system include bacterial infections in the kidneys, arising from elsewhere in the body, or invading from outside of the body through the urethra. Health care providers generally call these maladies urinary tract infections but might also diagnose the ailment according to the specific system location. These diagnoses might include cystitis, glomerulonephritis, and pyelonephritis, indicating infections of the bladder and kidney, respectively.

Individuals suffering from urinary tract infections can develop a variety symptoms, including lower abdominal or lower back pain and difficulty urinating, though the urge occurs frequently. Patients with urinary tract infections may develop a fever, chills, and bloody urine. Bacterial infections that cause problems with the urinary system require a regimen of the appropriate antibiotics following evaluation of a urine sample. Females generally experience urinary tract infections more frequently than males because of the shorter length of the female urethra.

Kidney stones, or renal calculi, are an obstructive problem with the urinary system that occurs when calcium salts or other substances clump together. These formations can develop anywhere in the urinary tract. Symptoms differ depending on the shape, size, and location of the stone, but patients may experience extreme pain and pass bloody urine or have very little discomfort at all. Physicians often use lithotripsy, in which the stones are bombarded with sound waves which shatter the foreign object into smaller pieces, which may then more easily pass out of the body. Renal calculi may also occur in females, but this is much rarer.

Prostate enlargement is another obstructive disorder that men often experience after the age of 60. The donut shaped gland lies at the bottom of the bladder and surrounds the urethra. Problems with the urinary system occur when the gland swells and compresses the urethra, making urination difficult. Treatment for prostate problems varies depending on whether the condition occurs secondary to an infection, inflammation, or cancer.

As the body ages, many undesirable physical changes arise that might include problems with the urinary system. The bladder diminishes in elasticity and size and holds less urine. A general loss of pelvic muscle tone may inhibit an individual from completely emptying the bladder, which can contribute to infections. The circular sphincter muscle, which closes the bottom of the bladder, may also lose tone, causing urine leakage.

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