Urinary Disorders

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Introduction

What are urinary disorders?

The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Your kidneys filter your blood, creating urine, which travels through the ureters to the bladder, where it is stored. When the appropriate time comes, the muscles of your bladder contract and urine exits your body through your urethra. Urinary disorders include any diseases, disorders or conditions that affect your kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra, or that affect their function.

Examples of urinary disorders include cancers of the urinary tract, incontinence (inability to control urine flow), interstitial cystitis, kidney stones, kidney failure, and urinary tract infections. Common symptoms of urinary disorders include abdominal, pelvic, or lower back pain or discomfort; blood in the urine; changes in the urine; difficulty producing urine; fever and chills; frequent urination; leaking of urine; and urgent need to urinate. Some urinary disorders, such as infections, may develop quickly, while others, such as cancer, develop more slowly.

Urinary disorders can be caused by cancer, conditions affecting the structures near the urinary tract, infection, inflammation, injury, nervous system diseases, scarring, and urine crystallization. Treatment of urinary disorders involves identifying and treating the cause and symptoms. Some examples of possible treatments include self-care measures, medications to relieve pain, medications to relax the bladder, antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.

Urinary disorders can have serious, even life-threatening, complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as abdominal, pelvic, or lower back pain that can be severe; high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); not producing urine; or severe nausea and vomiting.

Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of a urinary disorder or are being treated for a urinary disorder but symptoms recur or are persistent.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of urinary disorders?

Some people who have urinary disorders do not experience symptoms. Others may notice changes in the color, smell or cloudiness of their urine. Some urinary disorders can cause pain or discomfort, which may be constant or may come and go in waves. Some urinary disorders involve changes in the frequency or urgency of urination, and others affect a person’s ability to hold urine or to start and maintain the flow of urine. Urinary disorders caused by infections may be accompanied by fevers and chills. Sometimes the first symptom of urinary tract cancers is weight loss.

Common symptoms of urinary disorders

Symptoms of urinary disorders vary from person to person and based on the cause of the disorders. Common urinary symptoms include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, urinary disorders can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Abdominal, pelvic, or lower back pain that can be severe
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Not producing any urine
  • Severe nausea and vomiting

Causes

What causes urinary disorders?

Urinary disorders have a wide variety of causes. Sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia, are common causes of urethritis. Other infectious agents can cause infections of the urethra, bladder or kidneys. Irritation or trauma can cause inflammation of the urethra.

Urinary incontinence can be due to weak muscles in the pelvis or around the urethra or to disorders of the nervous system. Urinary retention can be due to nervous system abnormalities, enlargement of the prostate, or kinking of the urethra. Kidney disease can result from other conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy). The causes of some types of urinary disorders, such as interstitial cystitis, kidney stones, and cancers of the urinary tract, are not known.

Common causes of urinary disorders

Common causes of urinary disorders include:

What are the risk factors for urinary disorders?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing urinary disorders. Not all people with risk factors will get urinary disorders. Risk factors for urinary disorders include:

  • Birth defects
  • Catheterization (placement of a tube to drain the bladder)
  • Chemical or irritant exposures
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Genital piercing
  • Low fluid intake
  • Personal history or family history of some types of urinary tract disorders
  • Pregnancy and delivery
  • Sexual contact with someone who engages in high-risk sexual behavior or who has had a sexually transmitted disease
  • Systemic diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Surgery involving the upper or lower urinary tract
  • Trauma
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Use of deodorant tampons or douches
  • Use of spermicides or lubricants with irritants

Treatments

How are urinary disorders treated?

Treatment of urinary disorders begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to provide early screening tests. Regular medical care also provides an opportunity for your health care professional to evaluate your symptoms and your risks for developing urinary disorders promptly.

Specific treatments depend on the type of urinary disorder.

Common treatments of urinary disorders

Treatment of urinary disorders involves identifying and treating the cause or symptoms. Some examples of possible treatments include self-care measures, medications to relieve pain, medications to relax the bladder, antibiotics, devices, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.

Common treatments of urinary disorders include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infections

  • Avoidance of trauma or irritants

  • Bladder training to help increase the amount of urine that can be held before the urge to urinate occurs

  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells

  • Devices to support the bladder

  • Insertion of medications directly into the bladder to reduce pain or treat cancer

  • Lithotripsy to break up stones

  • Medications to relax the bladder

  • Pain-relieving medications

  • Physical therapy and biofeedback to relieve spasms of the pelvic floor

  • Surgery to remove cancer, repair injuries, reinforce weakened structures, or treat conditions that don’t respond to other therapies

What are the potential complications of urinary disorders?

Complications of untreated urinary disorders can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of urinary disorders include:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Chronic pain
  • Decreased bladder capacity
  • Impotence
  • Infertility
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Perinatal transmission of infection to newborn
  • Proctitis
  • Reiter syndrome (joint and ocular inflammation)
  • Spread of a sexually transmitted infection to a partner
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection to nearby structures
  • Urethral scarring and narrowing
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 5
  1. Bladder diseases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bladderdiseases.html.
  2. Urinary tract infection - adults. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000521.htm
  3. Manhart LE, Gillespie CW, Lowens MS, et al. Standard treatment regimens for nongonococcal urethritis have similar but declining cure rates: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis 2013; 56:934.
  4. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  5. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
  6. Lumen N, Hoebeke P, Willemsen P, et al. Etiology of urethral stricture disease in the 21st century. J Urol 2009; 182:983.
  7. Fitzpatrick JM, Kirby RS. Management of acute urinary retention. BJU Int 2006; 97 Suppl 2:16.
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