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Common Ailments of the Urinary System

author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Dr. Tina M. St. John owns and operates a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an accomplished medical writer and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Common Ailments of the Urinary System
Urinary tract ailments can develop from infancy to senescence. Photo Credit: Nomadsoul1/iStock/Getty Images

The urinary system is a common site for ailments, leading to millions of physician office and emergency room visits each year, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Both adults and children are susceptible to urinary tract ailments, which range from mild to severe. While many urinary tract problems are short-lived, others are chronic and require long-term medical management.

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Urinary tract infections remain one of the most common ailments in the United States, reports Dr. Susan Mehnert-Kay writing in "American Family Physician." The overwhelming majority of urinary tract infections are caused by the bacterium E. coli, a fecal contaminant. Bladder infections, also known as lower urinary tract infections, most commonly occur in sexually active adult women. Children and adult men also develop lower urinary tract infections, but at a much lower rate compared to adult women. Typical symptoms include burning or stinging pain with urination and urinary frequency and urgency.

Lower urinary tract infections can spread to the kidneys, causing an upper urinary tract infection, also known as pyelonephritis. In addition to lower urinary tract symptoms, patients may have fever and pain in the side or back below the ribcage. Antibiotics are the principal treatment for lower and upper urinary tract infections, which usually resolve without complications.


Urinary incontinence is a distressing condition characterized by periodic accidental loss of urine. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that urinary incontinence affects millions of adults, with women affected at roughly twice the rate of men. The frequency and volume of urine loss varies according to the underlying cause of the condition and its severity.

Different types of urinary incontinence can develop. Stress incontinence is leakage of urine that occurs with increased intra-abdominal pressure, such as with sneezing, laughing, coughing or straining. This form of incontinence commonly occurs in women, often resulting from loss of pelvic muscle tone. Urge incontinence is another common bladder control disorder, characterized by an inability to hold back urine flow when strong urinary urges occur. This form of incontinence frequently develops with overactive bladder. Incomplete bladder emptying, such as occurs in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia, may cause overflow incontinence--slow leakage of urine unrelated to an urge to urinate.

Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a common urinary system ailment that develops when chemicals in the urine come out of solution--liquid form--and form a solid mass. Kidney stones large enough to block urine flow cause severe pain in the side, back, lower abdomen or groin. Other possible symptoms include nausea, vomiting, blood in the urine, urinary frequency and burning with urination, according to Mount Sinai Medical Center. Most kidney stones pass with increased fluids and medication. Shock waves, or lithotripsy, may be used to break a large kidney stone into smaller pieces to facilitate passage. Uncommonly, surgery is required to remove a kidney stone.

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