Female Anatomy

In both men and women, the urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. These organs play the same roles in a man and in a woman.

Because a woman's reproductive organs are located close to the organs of the urinary system, she may have special concerns. This is particularly so during pregnancy.

The animation below highlights the organs of a woman's urinary system and reproductive system.

   

A woman's urinary system changes for many reasons, including age, infection, childbirth or injury.

Some of the most common problems that women experience are urinary tract infections, the need to urinate often, pain when urinating and urinary incontinence (not being able to prevent urination).

Pregnancy and the Urinary System

Childbirth has a major affect on a woman's urinary system. As the baby grows inside the uterus, it puts pressure on the bladder. This is one of the reasons why pregnant women need to go to the bathroom so often.

Having babies also weakens the muscles on the floor of a woman's pelvis. These muscles are shaped like slings or hammocks. They hold the bladder and urethra in place. When these muscles get weak or stretched out, it becomes much more difficult for a woman to control the flow of urine.

Urinary Tract Infections in Women

A woman's anatomy also makes it more likely that she will get urinary tract infections than a man. One reason for this is that her urethra (the tube that carries urine outside the body) is shorter than in a man. A woman's urethra is only about an inch and a half compared to a man's urethra, which is about eight inches long.

This means that it's easier for bacteria from outside sources like the rectum to work its way up to the bladder and cause an infection.

Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder that affects women 10 times more often than men. It causes a woman to need to go to the bathroom often -- as often as 30 times a day or 20 times a night.

Besides the urgent need to go to the bathroom often, insterstitial cystitis causes pain in the lower abdomen.

Doctors are not certain what causes interstitial cystitis. It could be a virus, an autoimmune disease or a defect in the lining of the bladder.

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