Understanding the urinary system
Urological diseases can affect both men and women irrespective of their age and can even be diagnosed in children, making it quite a common affliction. There are a number of diseases that can be categorized under urological diseases, all of them affecting the ability of the body to flush out toxins efficiently.
To describe it simply, these diseases affect the filtering of and expulsion of urine in the body. When this critical function is impaired, several problems can arise. To understand these ailments better, prevent them and treat them in time, it helps if you have a basic knowledge of the human body’s urinary system.
The urinary system consists of two kidneys, two ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. The kidneys, shaped like beans, are about the size of your closed fist. They are located on either side of your spine, below the rib cage. The kidneys clean out the blood and create urine. The urine is carried to the bladder by the two ureters that lie on either side of the bladder.
The bladder lies between the pelvic muscles and it expands when urine is transferred here via the ureters. When you expel this fluid from your bladders this is known as urination. The function of the kidneys cannot be controlled by you but you do normally wield a significant amount of control over when your bladder empties.
The body uses this urinary system in general and the urinary tract, in particular, to get rid of the bodily wastes and extra fluids. When all the parts of the urinary system are all working in perfect order, normal urination occurs and the body can expel wastes efficiently. However, if you have an ailment that affects this system and its efficiency, several critical functions are affected too, such as:
- Expulsion of waste/ excess fluid in the body
- Maintenance of correct electrolyte levels
- Secretion of hormones for blood pressure regulation etc.
Types of Urinary diseases
Before you can find an effective urinary problem solution, you have to get the ailment diagnosed accurately.
Here are the most common kinds of urological problems.
- Prostate enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, also known as prostate enlargement, is very common in older men. When this condition exists, the swollen prostate exerts pressure on the urethra and results in a frequent urge to urinate and the constant feeling that the bladder is not empty.
- Kidney Stones: Kidney stones form when small particles attach themselves to crystals in the urine and become bigger and bigger until they can cause significant impairment of urinary function. These stones can pass from the kidneys to the ureter as well. Kidney/ ureter stones are one of the most common reasons for urine blockage. Acute pain when passing urine is one of the most evident urine blockage symptoms arising from stones in the kidney.
- Urinary incontinence: Loss of bladder control resulting in urine leakage is called urinary incontinence. A very common problem that can affect your lifestyle and your daily schedule rather badly, this ailment can arise from myriad causes, including weak bladder muscles, overactive bladder, weak sphincter muscles, infections and diseases like Parkinson’s, among others. Some urinary incontinence causes can be corrected by lifestyle changes while some may require surgery.
- Urinary Tract infections: UTIs are the result of a bacterial or viral infection in the urinary tract. Although mostly found in women, UTIs cannot entirely be eliminated in men either. One of the most easy- to- spot symptoms of UTI is a burning sensation when urinating. You may also feel that you are not able to empty your bladder fully at all even right after you have just passed urine and you may have a frequent urge to urinate throughout the day.
The last two ailments are by far the most common ones when we talk of diseases that can afflict the urinary system.
Symptoms of urinary diseases
Urinary tract infections may remain hidden from you, meaning, you may not experience any symptoms outwardly every time. However, if they do manifest, this is what will tell you that your problem could be a urine block arising from a UTI or they could be urinary incontinence symptoms:
- The need to urinate frequently
- The feeling that your bladder is always full, even after you have just urinated
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Inability to pass the usual, normal amounts of urine
- Discoloured urine/ blood in the urine
- Strong odour in the urine
- Expulsion of urine involuntarily when you laugh or sneeze
- Uncontrolled, involuntary passage of urine, whether minor leaks or a full flow
- Urine dribbling throughout the day and night
Similar symptoms may arise from a variety of other ailments and that means this condition may be overlooked or mistaken for another. Approaching an experienced physician to make an accurate diagnosis is a very critical thing here.
The symptoms of urinary tract issues can be segregated based on which portion of the system is compromised. If the lower tract, urethra and bladder, are affected, the ailment is more easily and quickly managed.
An upper urinary tract ailment is a relatively higher risk disease that should be taken care of effectively and immediately with the right course of treatment. Keep in mind that the kidneys are affected in this case and if it is a bacterial infection that is causing the problems, there is a risk that the bacteria may move into the bloodstream.
Typically, when you have an ailment that is affecting the upper urinary tract you may have the following symptoms:
- Pain in the upper back
- Pain across the sides
- Fever and chills
- Vomiting sensation
A lower tract infection may result in rectal pain in men and pelvic pain in women alongside the other commonly experienced signs.
Diagnosis of urinary diseases
If your doctor suspects either a UTI or incontinence, the diagnosis begins with the collection of your urine sample after a preliminary check-up.
For urinary incontinence, the urine sample will be checked for blood traces, abnormalities and also infection. The doctor will also ask you to maintain a detailed record of your fluid intake, amount of urine you produce when you urinate, occurrences of incontinence and your urge to urinate.
Next step is to measure the post-voidal urine in your bladder. That is, after you urinate, the remaining urine in your bladder is measured to see if there is any urine blockage that is creating the problem and if so, what is the cause. A muscular weakness or nervous problem could also result in a large amount of urine remaining in the bladder even after you urinate.
Once these tests have been done, the doctor is in a position to tell you more about what is wrong with your urinary system and what is causing the issues.
In case the physician suspects a urinary tract infection or UTI, the diagnosis starts with the urine analysis again after a check-up. The sample will be tested for the presence of bacteria as well as for red blood cells or white blood cells. The next step may be a urine culture that will tell the doctor what kind of bacteria you are infected with. This allows him/ her to identify the right course of medicines to treat you with.
If the doctor suspects that it is not a bacterial infection that is causing your UTI but some kind of abnormality with the tract itself, a detailed examination of the tract may be advised. There are different ways in which this may be done and the doctor may recommend one or all of these- CT scan, ultrasound or MRI. A cystoscopy is also one of the methods the doctor may use to examine the urethra and bladder.
Since urinary incontinence and Urinary Tract Infections are the most common ailments detected, let us take a closer look at both of these.
Urinary incontinence(Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention)
So exactly what is urinary incontinence? It is the inability of your body to control the passage of urine, resulting in leakage from your bladder. Since this is a condition that can hamper your lifestyle quite drastically you have to seek urinary incontinence treatment in time to tackle the problem effectively. It is a common belief that incontinence is an age- related issue. While older people do tend to develop incontinence, it is not confined to them alone.
- Leakage of urine when you laugh or cough or lift something or exert pressure on the bladder in any other way
- Need to urinate often
- Intense urge to urinate followed by involuntary passage of urine
- Constant urine leakage from the bladder
There may be many factors that cause incontinence, some of which are lifestyle habits, others, medical reasons. Different urinary incontinence types may be traced back to different factors.
- Ingestion of diuretics like excess caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, etc.
- UTIs can also result in incontinence
- Constipation to such a degree that the unpassed stools cause the nerves of your bladder to be overactive
- Pregnancy and childbirth often lead to incontinence that persists throughout this phase of life
- Bladder muscle aging erodes the bladder’s urine holding capacity
- Menopause causes hormonal changes that lead to incontinence in some women
- In men, prostate enlargement causes incontinence quite commonly
- It can arise from both prostate cancer and the treatment course for this kind of cancer
- Urinary tract blockage owing to tumours can lead to incontinence
- Certain neurological ailments, such as Parkinson’s, can impair the nerve signals required to maintain bladder control
Before your doctor arrives at an effective urinary problem solution, he will need to diagnose the underlying cause. If there is a specific condition that is resulting in the ailment, the condition is treated to give relief from the incontinence problem. He will also identify why urine blockage is happening and what type of incontinence you suffer from. This too impacts the treatment method he should adopt.
Medication is not the only way to treat this problem although anticholinergics, alpha blockers, topical estrogen and mirabegron may be prescribed to you. The doctor may also focus on helping you achieve better bladder control via exercises such as Kegels.
Bladder training can also be done by controlling the urge to go to the toilet, delaying your urination little by little until you can maintain a normal 2.5-hour gap between each urination.
Inversely, the doctor may also ask you to schedule toilet visits every 2 hours to prevent the urge to urinate urgently from ever making an appearance. When you are urinating, waiting for a few minutes and trying again to evacuate your bladder completely, also known as double voiding, is another common technique used for dealing with incontinence. Electrical stimulation is another method used for strengthening pelvic floor muscles that can lead to better bladder control.
Alongside all of these, you will also be told what to eat/ drink and when, to lessen the impact of the ailment on your daily life.
If the condition is too severe to be treated with non- invasive methods, then surgery may be the option you should go for. There are different kinds of surgery that your doctor may recommend based on what your problem is caused by.
- Sling procedure: A sling is created around the urethra as well as the bladder neck. This sling helps keep the bladder closed, thus preventing involuntary urine leakage. If you tend to expel urine when you sneeze or laugh, this procedure may be recommended.
- Prolapse surgery: Women who suffer from pelvic prolapse and have mixed incontinence offer require this kind of surgery where the sling procedure and prolapse surgery are both combined.
- Urinary sphincter: An artificial sphincter is inserted in men around the bladder to keep the sphincter closed. When urinating, the ring is deflated by pressing a small valve under the skin.
- Bladder neck suspension: Here, the portion where the bladder connects with the urethra is supported via surgery.
Management of incontinence, particularly in older people who cannot opt for surgery, is also done using absorbent pads to catch the dribble of urine from the bladder. You may also be taught to use a catheter to empty out your bladder efficiently at regular intervals during the day.
Rather than seeking a urinary problem solution or going for urine leakage treatment, it is best if you can take the right steps at the time to prevent the problem from afflicting you. Here are some things to keep in mind that help you lower the risk of developing incontinence.
- Stay healthy and keep a check on your weight. If you put on too much weight, exercise regularly, control your diet to bring it down.
- Eat healthy, especially fibrous foods, and eat the right amounts so that you do not develop constipation
- Learn and regularly do pelvic floor exercises
- Avoid foods that can irritate the bladder. For e.g.: alcohol, caffeine etc.
- Avoid lifestyle habits that increase risk of incontinence. For e.g.: smoking.
Urinary Tract Infection (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention)
Typically, UTIs occur in the lower part of the urinary tract, that is, the urethra and the bladder. However, infection in any part of the urinary tract is known as UTI. While bladder infections are an impediment to daily life and a nuisance, if the infection is in your kidneys, you need to take things far more seriously since the risk is much higher. A simple way to take preventive measures or treatment at the right time is to be aware of symptoms and quickly check in with your doctor if you develop any of them.
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation when passing urine
- Cloudy urine
- Discoloured urine that is pink or red or tea coloured
- Frequent urination without proper output
- Urine that has a very noticeably strong odour
- Pain in the centre of the pelvic area in women
When a concretion blocks the duct wherever digestive fluid moves from the bladder, it can cause inflammation and infection in the gallbladder. This is known as acute cholecystitis. It is a medical emergency. The risk of developing acute cholecystitis from symptomatic gallstones is 1 to 3 percent.
Symptoms associated with acute cholecystitis include:
- intense pain in the upper abdomen or mid-right back
- appetite loss
- nausea and vomiting
The most common cause of UTI is bacterial infection. Bacteria get into the urinary tract via the urethra and they begin to flourish in the bladder. If your in-built defence mechanism is not able to keep these microorganisms under check, the infection can develop full blown. In women, UTIs may be an infection of the bladder or of the urethra. Bladder infections are typically caused by E. coli while urethral infections are caused when bacteria move from the anus to the urethra.
To treat UTIs, your doctor will typically put you on a course of antibiotics to clear out the infections. The type of bacteria detected plays a big role in helping your physician determine what anti- biotic to prescribe. Apart from this, factors like your health condition and the frequency of the UTIs also impacts the treatment given.
If you have been suffering from UTIs on and off for a long time now, your doctor may opt for a treatment method that offers a permanent solution. In such case, a longer course of antibiotics may be prescribed. If he suspects that the UTIs arise from sexual activity, he may recommend taking an antibiotic after intercourse to prevent the onset of the infection. For older women who are in post- menopausal stage, estrogen therapy is also a method the doctor may advise. Very serious infections may require admission to the hospital and intravenous anti- biotics.
No matter what the ailment, prevention is always better than cure. To keep UTIs away, there are some simple preventive methods you can follow:
- Keep yourself hydrated at all times by taking in plenty of fluids, especially water. Bacteria gets flushed out of your urinary tract when you drink enough water and urinate frequently.
- After urinating or after bowel movements, never wash or wipe from back to front. Always wipe from front to back to prevent the transfer of bacteria from your anal area to your urethra.
- Keep strong cleaning products or feminine products away from your genital area. These can irritate sensitive skin and make it more vulnerable to infections.
- After intercourse, make sure you empty your bladder. If you do not have the urge to urinate, drink plenty of water and then urinate.
- Often, it is found that spermicide treated condoms and unlubricated condoms contribute to bacterial infections. Avoid these and choose safer birth control measures after taking the advice of your physician, if needed.
Road to Recovery and Aftercare
Following doctor’s orders is the most obvious and most important thing to do to recover quickly and fully from a urological disease. Taking the medications prescribed, as recommended and following the dietary and nutritional advice given is critical.
Apart from this, if you have had surgery, then your doctor will give you specific post-surgical care instructions that should be followed to the letter. Go for regular follow ups as advised so that your recovery process can be assessed and tracked by the doctor.
Urinary incontinence treatment may include exercises to train your bladder to evacuate fully and to open up only when you wish to urinate. Do these exercises regularly to build muscle strength in this area that can keep incontinence problems at bay. If you suffer from frequent UTI’s, improving hygiene, especially in cleaning the genital areas, can help immensely. Ask your doctor for tips and follow them diligently.
When it comes to dietary habits, the most important thing is to avoid items that irritate the bladder. These include caffeine, carbonated drinks and alcohol. Avoid these or cut them down to reasonable levels to ensure that these do not cause issues to crop up.
In general, drinking adequate fluids, especially water, throughout the day to flush out your urinary system thoroughly and prevent bacteria build up is very important. Eat healthy foods, with good fibre content to keep bowel movements regular since impaired digestion can also exacerbate urinary tract issues.
Natural treatments and home remedies
In general, to prevent urological disease, it is best if you learn which of your lifestyle habits are worsening the issue and avoid them. There may be simple things you can do at home to keep these ailments at bay.
- Regular intake of liquids said to help keep infections at bay. There is enough scientific study to show that intake of adequate fluids does help immensely to prevent urinary problems.
- Follow the right practices with respect to hygiene- such as, wiping from front to back after bowel movements should be done.
- Letting your skin breathe, that is, wearing comfortable, breathable fabric next to skin and wearing them loose enough to allow passage of air, help control bacteria build up.
- Use a cleansing liquid that is especially designed for sensitive areas of you body. Your regular soap may be too harsh and your skin may be prone to infections if you use the same soap in these parts.
Urinary problems FAQs: All your concerns addressed
Q. Can I treat my urinary tract issues on my own at home? It is embarrassing to discuss this with a doctor.
- While a minor infection may clear out on its own, if the infection has spread to your kidneys, the risk is quite high and it is imperative that you get expert medical help immediately. Remember that all urinary tract issues do not have visible symptoms and so you may not be aware of the severity of the problem on your own.
Q. Am I likely to develop UTIs because my parents used to suffer from them frequently?
- In women, it has been seen that the occurrence of UTI may be marginally higher in those whose parents have had similar problems too. However, UTIs may develop with no family history of the disease as well, from various other factors, both lifestyle-related and health-related.
Q. Is a particular age group or specific gender more susceptible to incontinence and UTIs?
- While UTIs do tend to be more common in women, men develop this ailment as well, although fewer cases may be detected when both genders are compared. With respect to age, there is a general belief that incontinence is seen only in the elderly but this is not so. This problem is also seen occasionally in children and across all age groups. A number of elders do suffer from poor bladder control as and when their muscles lose elasticity.
Q. I am diabetic. Am I at a higher risk of incontinence?
- It is seen that diabetics do stand a higher chance of developing this problem. If you are diabetic and you have been seeing signs of urinary problems, a thorough check up by a specialist is a good move for you to undertake.
Q. Is incontinence a problem that stays for life once you develop it or can it also disappear and reappear?
- Depending on why you have developed the problem, it may disappear after treatment and reappear later. For example, stress incontinence patients often find bladder control failing when they have a severe cold with coughing or sneezing. Once the illness is cured, the incontinence may also disappear. However, if the incontinence is due to weakened bladder muscles, it is more likely to be a long term issue.
Q. Why are women more prone to UTIs?
- The anatomy of women makes them more susceptible to risk here. The opening of the urethra being in front of the vaginal opening, the chance of bacteria getting into the former during intercourse is rather high.
Q. What can cause Urinary Problems or Urinary Tract Infections?
- Urinary problems are typically of four types - Prostate enlargement, Kidney Stones, Urinary incontinence, and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI). Urinary problems can occur due to various reasons like Surgical trauma, Spinal Cord Injury, Diabetes, Neurological damage, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Menopause, weak immune system, an enlarged prostate in men, or using a contraceptive measure like condoms that are coated in spermicide. etc.
UTI typically occurs due to bacterial infection, that is bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and begins to multiply. Other micro-organisms, such as Chlamydia and Mycoplasma can cause urethritis in both women and men. These micro-organisms are sexually transmitted so in case of such infections, both the partners need medical treatment to avoid re-infection.
Q. What are the common Urinary Tract Problems (UTI)?
- The different types of UTI can include:
- Urethritis – Infection of the urethra
- Cystitis – Infection of the bladder
- Pyelonephritis – Infection of the kidneys
- Vaginitis – Infection of the vagina.
Q. What is the difference between a Bladder Infection and a UTI?
- Bladder infections or Cystitis is the most common type of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), but not all UTIs are bladder infections. UTI occurs in the urinary tract, which includes the ureters, kidneys, urethra, and bladder. While all these types of infections show common symptoms, the location of the infection matters during the diagnosis.
Symptoms of Bladder Infection:
- Burning sensation while urinating (dysuria)
- Frequent urge to urinate but very little urine comes out
- Pelvic pain
Symptoms of UTI:
- Urge to urinate more often
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Foul smell in urine
- burning pain or sensation when urinating
- lower back pain pr pelvic pain
Q. How do you know if you have a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
- Look out for all the UTI symptoms to figure out whether you have an infection. The most alarming one includes a strong, frequent urge to urinate and a painful and burning sensation when urinating.
Q. What can cause a UTI in a woman?
- Women have a lifetime risk of over 50 per cent of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) with 20 to 30 per cent experiencing recurrent UTIs. Pregnant women mostly face urinary problems like Urinary Retention but not UTI. But if a UTI does occur during pregnancy, it is more likely to travel up to the kidneys as the body changes during pregnancy affect the urinary tract.
Q. Will a UTI go away on its own?
- It is important to seek medical attention if you think you may have a UTI. But there are few non-antibiotic treatments and home remedies which can resolve UTIs.
- Urinary tract organs remove waste from the body efficiently while retaining electrolytes and vital nutrients. Being hydrated dilutes the urine and speeds its journey through the urinary tract. It makes harder for bacteria to reach the urinary organ cells and cause the infection. Hence, drink plenty of water and other fluids to flush the urinary system.
- Treat vaginal infections such as thrush or trichomonas quickly.
- Avoid using spermicide containing contraceptive devices.
- Take Probiotics or beneficial bacteria as it helps keep the urinary tract healthy and free from harmful bacteria. A particular group of probiotics called Lactobacilli produces hydrogen peroxide in urine, which is a strong antibacterial.
- Get enough Vitamin C as this antioxidant helps to improve immune system function and fight the infection.