- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Common Ailments of the Urinary System
The urinary system removes waste and excess water from the blood, and plays a key role in body chemistry and the body’s hormone system. The urinary system has to work well for a person to feel healthy. Below are some common illnesses of the urinary system, their system, and their treatment.
Urinary Tract Infection
Infection may affect any part of the urinary system: kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most infections are limited to the urethra (when they are called urethritis), or to the bladder, where they are called cystitis. Women have urethritis and cystitis more commonly than men do. Symptoms may include a strong urge to urinate often; passing small amounts of urine; a burning sensation when urinating; urine that appears cloudy, pink, or brown, or that smells odd; or pain in the area of the bladder: If the infection spreads to the kidneys it can cause serious illness., including pain in the back or side, fever, chills, and nausea. A urinary tract infection may be caused by a sexually transmitted infection, or it can be caused by an invasion of the urinary tract by bacteria from the digestive tract, due to trauma or a weakened immune system.
The treatment is usually antibiotics. Doctors will tell you to drink plenty of water to flush out the bacteria, and avoid coffee, alcohol, and citrus juice, which can irritate the bladder. Cranberry juice is a folk remedy and preventative for urinary tract infections, although the Mayo Clinic says its effectiveness hasn’t been proven.
Nephritis is an inflammation of the kidney, which can be due to many causes including infection, immune system disorders, or diabetes. Bright’s disease is an old name for this group of illnesses. If nephritis is caused by infection of the collecting-basin part of the kidney, it can be called pyelonephritis; if it is inflammation of the tiny filters in the kidney, it is called glomerulonephritis. Nephritis is a serious illness, which can lead to kidney failure, that is, to illness caused by waste products building up in the blood, or protein or blood leaking out into the urine. Symptoms may include pink or brown urine; foamy urine; high blood pressure; puffiness or edema of the face, hands, ankles or belly; and fatigue.
Treatment of nephritis depends on the cause. Late-stage kidney disease can only be helped by kidney transplant or dialysis. Good health habits may delay the damage from chronic kidney disease: for example, reducing salt, protein, and potassium in the diet, controlling blood sugar, and stopping smoking.
Uremia means urea in the blood. It is caused by kidney failure, which causes waste products from protein metabolism (urea and and creatinine) to accumulate in the blood. The waste products produce a toxic condition that can be fatal. Symptoms may include fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, anemia, and high blood pressure. Treatment for this serious condition is limited to dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Kidney stones are small hard masses of mineral deposits that form within the tubules of the kidneys. They form when the urine is too concentrated, and has more minerals in it than it can dissolve. Their formation may be triggered by infection, dehydration, a high-protein diet, or genetic differences in metabolism. A kidney stone may not cause symptoms until it moves, often into the ureter, when it can cause pain in the side and back that spreads into the lower abdomen and groin, a pain that comes in “waves.” Kidney stones can also cause painful urination, strange-colored or bad-smelling urine, or frequent urination. Drinking large quantities of water can help prevent the formation of new stones, or move smaller stones into the bladder so they can pass out of the body. Larger stones can be broken up with lithotripsy (shock waves) to get them to pass, or they can be removed by surgery.
Small rock-like mineral deposits can form in the bladder as well as the kidney. They are more common in men than in women. They can form when an enlarged prostate gland or other condition crowds the bladder and causes urine to stagnate, or they can be triggered by dehydration, infection, or inflammation. They can occur without symptoms, or they can cause severe pain in the lower abdomen and back, difficult or painful urination, fever, or blood in the urine. Small stones may pass by themselves, especially if the patient drinks a lot of water. Larger stones can be broken up by lasers or ultrasound in a surgical procedure, or they can be surgically removed.
Cancer of the kidney is becoming more common. The most common type is renal cell carcinoma. It can be detected with a CT scan. Early kidney cancer rarely has symptoms. Later, it can cause blood in the urine, back pain just below the ribs, weight loss, fatigue, or fever. The causes are not clear, but risk factors include age, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and long-term dialysis. The various treatments include surgery; killing cancer cells by freezing them with gas or destroying them with electrical current; and drugs.
Bladder cancer is more common in men than in women (the fourth most common type of cancer in men, and the tenth most common in women). It is more common in smokers, and in factory workers who work with arsenic and other industrial chemicals. As with many urinary system ailments, symptoms include blood in the urine, frequent or painful urination, and back pain or pelvic pain.
Bladder cancer often starts in the lining of the bladder and is highly treatable if caught early, by removing the tumor or killing its cells with electrical current, a laser, or “immunotherapy” drugs. Advanced cancer may be treated by removing the entire bladder, or by chemotherapy.