Urologic conditions affect both men and women, but women may experience disorders differently. Some urologic conditions, such as urinary incontinence (UI) and urinary tract infections (UTIs), are more common in women.
Urinary tract and kidney problems are common in women in part because the urinary tract is much closer to their genital area than in men. As such, pregnancy, childbirth and sexual intercourse can also play a part in urologic conditions affecting women.
The urinary system, also called the urinary tract, is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. The urinary tract’s main function is to drain the body’s urine and to keep a proper balance of water and chemicals in the body. The urination process starts with blood filters in the kidneys, which pass urine through the ureter to the bladder where urine is held until expelled from the body through the urethra.
Listed below are common female urologic conditions.
General urinary conditions & treatments in women
The most common issues women experience that are related to the general urinary tract are infections, incontinence and fistulas.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs are caused by bacterial infections in the urinary tract causing painful or frequent urination, blood in the urine, cramps or nausea. One woman in five develops a UTI during her lifetime and women are 10 times more likely to have a UTI than men.
Women experience urinary incontinence (UI), the involuntary loss of bladder control, about twice as often as men. This is due to the structure of the female urinary tract and because women experience childbirth and menopause.
A fistula is an uncommon connection among any organ or intestine and can occur anywhere in the body. Urinary fistulas include any abnormal connection between the kidney, bladder, urethra, the colon and the vagina. The result can be feces and urine leaking from the vagina due to that abnormal connection.
Pelvic organ prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when a woman’s muscles, skin, ligaments and other support structures surrounding the vagina weaken, causing pelvic organs such as the bladder to fall out of their normal position. There are different types of prolapse, named after the organs that are shifting within a women’s pelvic area. Types of prolapse include vaginal prolapse or bladder prolapse.
Typically, pelvic organ prolapses affect older women who have had children.
The lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and urethra, allows for storage and discharge of urine. Voiding dysfunction is a general term describing poor coordination between the bladder muscle and the urethra, in which the bladder does not empty properly. Symptoms typically include a strong urge to urinate, frequent urination and the inability to empty the bladder.
Kidney conditions & treatments in women
The kidneys are fist-sized, bean-shaped organs that filter impurities from blood and produce urine that carries those impurities out of the body. They are located behind the abdominal organs, right below a person’s rib cage.
Read an overview of all kidney conditions. The following are common kidney conditions.
Kidney stones occur when minerals and salts in the urine clump together into “stones.” These clumps range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Smaller stones can pass with the urine, although even those can be very painful. Larger stones require medical treatment and removal.
Chronic kidney disease
More than 25 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
Hydronephrosis happens when one or both kidneys cannot drain urine and become swollen. It can be caused by a kidney stone, a UTI, a blockage, scarring from surgery or injury, a blood clot or pregnancy.
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes multiple cysts to grow in one or both kidneys. These cysts are not cancerous, but they can damage the kidneys.
Bladder conditions & treatments in women
The bladder is a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine. Numerous health conditions can affect the bladder. And the bladder may be involved in several urinary tract conditions, such as urinary incontinence.
The following are some of the bladder-specific issues women may experience.
An overactive bladder often causes frequent urges to urinate, inability to hold urine and incomplete bladder emptying. This is a common condition seen in women when the pelvic floor muscles weaken, which often occurs with age. The front wall of the vagina, which supports the bladder, can also weaken with age or after dramatic events such as childbirth.
Painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis)
This is a condition in which the walls of the bladder become inflamed and may cause frequent or painful urination, bladder pressure, pain in the bladder area and sometimes pelvic pain. Both men and women can get painful bladder syndrome, although women are twice as likely as men. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in middle age.
Bladder prolapse is a form of pelvic floor prolapse, which occurs when a woman’s muscles, ligaments and skin surrounding the vagina weaken, causing pelvic organs such as the bladder to fall out of their normal position. Typically, this condition affects older women.
Urethral conditions & treatments in women
The urethra is a tube that is attached to the bladder and carries urine out of the body. The urethra in females is much shorter than in males. Its opening is between the clitoris and the vagina.
Urethral issues affecting women include:
Urethral diverticulum (UD) occurs when a pocket-like pouch forms next to the urethra. Since it most often connects to the urethra, this pocket repeatedly gets filled with urine thus causing infection and symptoms. Typical symptoms include frequent urination, urgent need to urinate and dysuria (pain during urination). UD is more common in females than in males and usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 70.
This condition is similar to a lower UTI, but the infection is not bacterial. Typically, a woman with urethral syndrome will experience various bladder symptoms including frequent urination, burning or painful urination, incomplete emptying of the bladder after urinating and incontinence. However, not all women will have all the symptoms.
Urologic cancers in women
Urologic cancers are fairly common and include:
Learn more about urologic cancers.