Urologic conditions affect both men and women, but women may experience disorders differently. Some urologic conditions, such as urinary incontinence (UI) and urinary tract infections (UTIs), are more common in women.Urinary tract and kidney problems are also common in women, in part because the urinary tract is much closer to their genital area than in men. Pregnancy, childbirth and sexual intercourse can also play a part in urologic conditions affecting women.
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The urinary system, also called the urinary tract, is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. The urinary tract’s main function is to drain the body’s urine and to keep a proper balance of water and chemicals in the body. The urination process starts with blood filters in the kidneys, which pass urine through the ureter to the bladder where urine is held until expelled from the body through the urethra.
Urinary Conditions in Women
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTI’s are caused by bacterial infections in the urinary tract and they can be painful or cause frequent urination, blood in the urine, cramps or nausea. One woman in five develops a UTI during her lifetime and women are 10 times more likely to have a UTI than men. Complex UTI’s, those infections that are recurrent, can be the result of stones, a urinary obstruction or can be caused by menopause or even slings.
Incontinence is common in women, with up to 30% of the population experiencing symptoms. There are two different types of incontinence – stress incontinence, which results in the loss of urine when an individual is laughing, coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects or participating in activities. This type of incontinence is due to the weakening of the pelvic floor and hypermobility of the urethra. Overactive bladder is another type of incontinence, sometimes referred to as urge incontinence. The hallmarks for this type of incontinence include, increased frequency and urgency. Often women need to get up in the night to go to the bathroom. The cause of overactive bladder is muscles that are contracting too much. There are many treatments available for urinary incontinence.
A fistula is a rare condition where there is an abnormal connection between the kidney, bladder, urethra, the colon and the vagina. The result can be feces and urine leaking from the vagina due to that abnormal connection. This is a condition that needs to be addressed and repaired.
Pelvic organ prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when a woman’s muscles, skin, ligaments and other support structures surrounding the vagina weaken, causing pelvic organs such as the bladder to fall out of their normal position. There are different types of prolapse, named after the organs that are shifting within a women’s pelvic area. Types of prolapse include vaginal prolapse or bladder prolapse.
Typically, pelvic organ prolapses affect older women who have had children other risk factors for prolapse include: age, genetics, chronic constipation, or excessive straining with weight lifting. All of these things cause weakening over time. There are several options to treat prolapse and your doctor will recommend the best course of action based on the severity of the conditions. Pelvic floor therapy or a pessary are non-invasive measures that can be tried first. If those treatments are not effective, minimally invasive, laparoscopic, pelvic surgery to reconstruct and repair the prolapse are an option.
The lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and urethra, allows for storage and discharge of urine. Voiding dysfunction is a general term that describes poor coordination between the bladder muscle and the urethra, in which the bladder does not empty properly. Symptoms typically include a strong urge to urinate, frequent urination and the inability to fully empty the bladder.
Kidney conditions in women
The kidneys are fist-sized, bean-shaped organs that filter impurities from blood and produce urine that carries those impurities out of the body. They are located behind the abdominal organs, right below a person’s rib cage. There are a variety of kidney conditions. The following are common kidney conditions.
Kidney stones occur when minerals and salts in the urine clump together into “stones.” These clumps range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Smaller stones can pass with the urine, although even those can be very painful. Larger stones require medical treatment and removal.
Chronic kidney disease
More than 25 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
Hydronephrosis happens when one or both kidneys cannot drain urine and become swollen. It can be caused by a kidney stone, a UTI, a blockage, scarring from surgery or injury, a blood clot or pregnancy.
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes multiple cysts to grow in one or both kidneys. These cysts are not cancerous, but they can damage the kidneys.
Bladder conditions in women
Painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis)
This is a condition in which the walls of the bladder become inflamed and may cause frequent or painful urination, bladder pressure, pain in the bladder area and sometimes pelvic pain. Both men and women can get painful bladder syndrome, although women are twice as likely as men. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in middle age.although women are twice as likely as men. It is often characterized by pain in the bladder that lasts longer than 6 weeks and it is not attributed to any specific cause. Sometimes patients feel like they have a urinary tract infection that comes and goes. Many treatments such as pelvic floor therapy and medications that numb and heals the bladder are available.
Overactive bladder (OAB) is a common urologic condition that occurs when bladder muscles begin to act involuntarily, resulting in the frequent and urgent need to urinate. The urge may be very strong and, in some cases, lead to incontinence of urine. OAB affects both men and women with an estimated 40 percent of women in the U.S. experiencing OAB symptoms.
Urethral conditions in women
The urethra is the tube which is attached to the bladder and carries urine out of the body. The urethra in females is much shorter than in males, making them more pre-disposed to urethral conditions such as Urethral diverticulum.
Urethral diverticulum (UD) occurs when a pocket-like pouch forms next to the urethra. Since it most often connects to the urethra, this pocket repeatedly gets filled with urine thus causing infection and symptoms. Typical symptoms include frequent urination, urgent need to urinate and dysuria (pain during urination). UD is more common in females than in males and usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 70.
Urologic cancers in women
Urologic cancers are fairly common and include:
Learn more about urologic cancers.