7 Surprising Facts About the Urinary Tract

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on May 1, 2020
  • Doctor pointing to bladder
    Urinary Tract Facts
    You probably don’t think about your urinary tract much—until something goes wrong. Both the female urinary tract and male urinary tract consist of two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra. While this doesn’t seem complicated, it’s actually a pretty amazing organ system. And there are some obvious differences between the sexes in this regard. Here’s some surprising facts about the urinary tract you may or may not know.
  • kidney-disease-model-kidneys
    1. Each kidney is about the size of your fist.
    Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that sit just below your ribs on each side of the spine. This location is why kidney stones often cause back pain. Kidneys act as filters to clean waste out of the blood and make urine. Each kidney has one million filtering units called nephrons. Together, nephrons filter about a half of a cup of blood per minute. This translates to about 45 gallons per day. By the time you are 40 years old, your kidneys have filtered blood volume equivalent to an Olympic-size pool! And for an average 150- to 180-pound adult, the kidneys filter all the blood in their body once every 38 to 48 minutes.
  • illustration of kidney
    2. Each ureter ranges from about 8 to 12 inches long.
    Ureters run from each kidney to the bladder. Their length depends on how long your torso is. These tubes are about 0.25 inches wide with muscular walls. The walls squeeze small amounts of urine down from the kidneys into the bladder every 10 to 15 seconds.
  • At doctors appointment, physician shows patient shape of urine bladder, explaining causes and localization of diseases of bladder and the urinary system
    3. The bladder can stretch to hold up to two cups of urine.
    The bladder is a balloon-like organ that sits low in the pelvis between the pelvic bones. While you can’t control the urine coming into your bladder, you do have control over releasing it. Most people first feel the urge to urinate when the bladder fills with about a cup of urine. Once you’re ready, muscles in the bladder wall squeeze and muscles at the outlet relax allowing urine to flow. How often you feel the urge depends on how much fluid you drink throughout the day and other factors.
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    4. No surprise here—male and female urethras are different.
    The urethra is the final part of the urinary tract. It empties urine to the outside of the body. Basic anatomy tells you that male and female urethras are different. The female urethra is only about 1.5 inches long, while male urethras are 7 to 8 inches long. But there are more differences than that. The male urethra is also a conduit for semen. As the male urethra passes through the prostate gland, sperm and fluid enter it to be ejaculated. And because of the female urethra’s location and length, females are more prone to UTIs (urinary tract infections) than males.
  • woman in bathroom pressing her hand to her pelvic area indicating pain or cramping
    5. Problems can occur with any part of the urinary tract.
    When it comes to urinary tract conditions, most people think of kidney problems and UTIs. But problems can develop anywhere along the urinary tract. Urinary tract stones can affect the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. Incontinence from various reasons can happen to both males and females. And cancers can afflict the urinary system as well.
  • Urine sample
    6. The color of urine can tell you a lot.
    Urine is mostly water, along with urea—a waste product—and various salts and minerals. It also contains urochrome, which gives it a yellowish color. The amount of urine you produce depends on several things, one of which is how much fluid you drink. When you’re drinking enough, urine should be a pale yellow. Dark urine can be a sign of dehydration. Urine can also turn colors, including red, pink, orange, brown and even blue or green. Medications and foods may explain color changes. But strange colors or cloudy urine can also be a sign of a medical condition.
  • pitcher of water being poured into glass
    7. You can take steps to keep your urinary tract healthy.
    There are some things you can’t control. And you can’t always prevent urinary conditions from developing. But you can promote a healthy urinary tract with some daily habits. Drink 6 to 8 glasses (8 ounces each) of fluid—preferably water—per day. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Don’t smoke. Maintain a healthy weight and avoid constipation to prevent excess pressure on the urinary tract. Don't hold urine too long, take the time to fully empty your bladder, and do pelvic floor exercises. Women should urinate after sex and wipe from front to back. See your doctor promptly if you notice urinary symptoms.
7 Surprising Urinary Tract Facts | Female & Male Urinary Tract
  1. 13 Tips to Keep Your Bladder Healthy. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/13-tips-keep-your-bladder-healthy
  2. Megaureter. American Urological Association. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/megaureter
  3. Ureteral Disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ureteraldisorders.html
  4. Urethra. National Cancer Institute. https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/urinary/components/urethra.html
  5. Urge Incontinence. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001270.htm
  6. Urinary Tract and How It Works. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/urinary-tract-how-it-works
  7. Urinary Tract System. American Urological Association. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/the-urinary-tract-system
  8. Urine Color. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urine-color/symptoms-causes/syc-20367333
  9. Whole Blood and What It Contains. American Red Cross. https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/dlp/whole-blood.html
  10. Your Kidneys and How They Work. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work
  11. Your Urinary System. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/pee.html
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Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 16
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