The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs found along the posterior wall of the abdominal cavity. The left kidney is located slightly higher than the right kidney because the right side of the liver is much larger than the left side. The kidneys, unlike the other organs of the abdominal cavity, are located posterior to the peritoneum and touch the muscles of the back. The kidneys are surrounded by a layer of adipose that holds them in place and protects them from physical damage. The kidneys filter metabolic wastes, excess ions, and chemicals from the blood to form urine.
The ureters are a pair of tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder. The ureters are about 10 to 12 inches long and run on the left and right sides of the body parallel to the vertebral column. Gravity and peristalsis of smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the ureters move urine toward the urinary bladder. The ends of the ureters extend slightly into the urinary bladder and are sealed at the point of entry to the bladder by the ureterovesical valves. These valves prevent urine from flowing back towards the kidneys.
The urinary bladder is a sac-like hollow organ used for the storage of urine. The urinary bladder is located along the body’s midline at the inferior end of the pelvis. Urine entering the urinary bladder from the ureters slowly fills the hollow space of the bladder and stretches its elastic walls. The walls of the bladder allow it to stretch to hold anywhere from 600 to 800 milliliters of urine.
UrethraThe urethra is the tube through which urine passes from the bladder to the exterior of the body. The female urethra is around 2 inches long and ends inferior to the clitorisand superior to the vaginal opening. In males, the urethra is around 8 to 10 inches long and ends at the tip of the penis. The urethra is also an organ of the male reproductive system as it carries sperm out of the body through the penis.
The flow of urine through the urethra is controlled by the internal and external urethral sphincter muscles. The internal urethral sphincter is made of smooth muscle and opens involuntarily when the bladder reaches a certain set level of distention. The opening of the internal sphincter results in the sensation of needing to urinate. The external urethral sphincter is made of skeletal muscle and may be opened to allow urine to pass through the urethra or may be held closed to delay urination.
Maintenance of Homeostasis
The kidneys maintain the homeostasis of several important internal conditions by controlling the excretion of substances out of the body.
Inside each kidney are around a million tiny structures called nephrons. The nephron is the functional unit of the kidney that filters blood to produce urine. Arterioles in the kidneys deliver blood to a bundle of capillaries surrounded by a capsule called aglomerulus. As blood flows through the glomerulus, much of the blood’s plasma is pushed out of the capillaries and into the capsule, leaving the blood cells and a small amount of plasma to continue flowing through the capillaries. The liquid filtrate in the capsule flows through a series of tubules lined with filtering cells and surrounded by capillaries. The cells surrounding the tubules selectively absorb water and substances from the filtrate in the tubule and return it to the blood in the capillaries. At the same time, waste products present in the blood are secreted into the filtrate. By the end of this process, the filtrate in the tubule has become urine containing only water, waste products, and excess ions. The blood exiting the capillaries has reabsorbed all of the nutrients along with most of the water and ions that the body needs to function.
Storage and Excretion of Wastes
After urine has been produced by the kidneys, it is transported through the ureters to the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder fills with urine and stores it until the body is ready for its excretion. When the volume of the urinary bladder reaches anywhere from 150 to 400 milliliters, its walls begin to stretch and stretch receptors in its walls send signals to the brain and spinal cord. These signals result in the relaxation of the involuntary internal urethral sphincter and the sensation of needing to urinate. Urination may be delayed as long as the bladder does not exceed its maximum volume, but increasing nerve signals lead to greater discomfort and desire to urinate.
Urination is the process of releasing urine from the urinary bladder through the urethra and out of the body. The process of urination begins when the muscles of the urethral sphincters relax, allowing urine to pass through the urethra. At the same time that the sphincters relax, the smooth muscle in the walls of the urinary bladder contract to expel urine from the bladder.
Production of Hormones
The kidneys produce and interact with several hormones that are involved in the control of systems outside of the urinary system.
How does the urinary system work?
What causes problems in the urinary system?
Problems in the urinary system can be caused by aging, illness, or injury. As you get older, changes in the kidneys’ structure cause them to lose some of their ability to remove wastes from the blood. Also, the muscles in your ureters, bladder, and urethra tend to lose some of their strength. You may have more urinary infections because the bladder muscles do not tighten enough to empty your bladder completely. A decrease in strength of muscles of the sphincters and the pelvis can also cause incontinence, the unwanted leakage of urine. Illness or injury can also prevent the kidneys from filtering the blood completely or block the passage of urine.
How are problems in the urinary system detected?
Urinalysis is a test that studies the content of urine for abnormal substances such as protein or signs of infection. This test involves urinating into a special container and leaving the sample to be studied.
What are some disorders of the urinary system?
Disorders of the urinary system range in severity from easy to treat to life threatening.
Who can help me with a urinary problem?
Your primary doctor can help you with some urinary problems. Your pediatrician may be able to treat some of your child’s urinary problems. But some problems may require the attention of a urologist, a doctor who specializes in treating problems of the urinary system and the male reproductive system. A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in the female reproductive system and may be able to help with some urinary problems. A urogynecologist is a gynecologist who specializes in the female urinary system. A nephrologist specializes in treating diseases of the kidney.
Points to Remember