Urology and genitourinary medicine > Anatomy: female urinary tract

  • The urinary tract is responsible for the production, storage and passing of urine. It includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
  • The two kidneys lie at the back of the abdomen. They produce urine by 'filtering' unwanted substances from the blood. The urine produced passes out of the kidneys, down both ureters and into the bladder, where it is stored.
  • The bladder fills with urine over 3-4 hours. As it fills, you become increasingly aware of the need to pass urine. During urination, urine passes from the bladder down the urethra to the outside. This involves simultaneous relaxation of the muscles of the urethra and contraction of the muscle of the bladder.
  • Women are more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs) than men because the female urethra is much shorter. Emptying your bladder shortly after sex may help to avoid UTIs.
  • After childbirth, many women leak small amounts of urine when they cough or sneeze. This is called 'stress incontinence' and occurs when the pelvic floor muscles have been weakened by the passage of the baby down the birth canal. Performing pelvic floor exercises may help strengthen the muscles and stop urine leaking out.
  • The flow of urine may be obstructed if the urethra is narrowed by scar tissue or the muscles of the urethra fail to relax. However, this is uncommon.