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Effects of Aging on the Urinary Tract

By

Glenn M. Preminger

, MD, Duke University Medical Center

Last full review/revision Jun 2019| Content last modified Jan 2020
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Age-related changes in the kidneys

As people age, there is a slow, steady decline in the weight of the kidneys Kidneys The kidneys are bean-shaped organs that figure prominently in the urinary tract. Each is about 4 to 5 inches (12 centimeters) long and weighs about one third of a pound (150 grams). One lies... read more . After about age 30 to 40, about two thirds of people (even those who do not have kidney disease) undergo a gradual decline in the rate at which their kidneys filter blood. However, the rate does not change in the remaining one third of older people, which suggests that factors other than age may affect kidney function.

As people age, the arteries supplying the kidneys narrow. Because the narrowed arteries may no longer supply enough blood for normal-sized kidneys, kidney size may decrease. Also, the walls of the small arteries that flow into the glomeruli Introduction to Disorders of Kidney Tubules The kidneys filter and cleanse the blood. They also maintain the body’s balance of water, electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, and chloride), and nutrients in the blood. The... read more thicken, which decreases the function of the remaining glomeruli. Accompanying these losses is a decline in the ability of the nephrons to excrete waste products and many drugs and an inability to concentrate or dilute urine and to excrete acid.

Despite age-related changes, however, sufficient kidney function is preserved to meet the needs of the body. Changes that occur with age do not in and of themselves cause disease, but the changes do reduce the amount of reserve kidney function that is available. In other words, both kidneys may need to work at nearly their full capacity to carry out all the normal kidney functions. Thus, even minor damage to one or both of the kidneys may result in a loss of kidney function.

Age-related changes in the ureters

The ureters Ureters The ureters are muscular tubes—about 16 inches (40 centimeters) long—that attach at their upper end to the kidneys and at their lower end to the bladder. (See also Overview of the Urinary Tract... read more do not change much with age, but the bladder and the urethra do undergo some changes. The maximum volume of urine that the bladder can hold decreases. A person's ability to delay urination after first sensing a need to urinate also declines. The rate of urine flow out of the bladder and into the urethra slows.

Throughout life, sporadic contractions of bladder wall muscles occur separately from any need or appropriate opportunity to urinate. In younger people, most of these contractions are blocked by spinal cord and brain controls, but the number of sporadic contractions that are not blocked rises with age, resulting sometimes in episodes of urinary incontinence. The amount of urine that remains in the bladder after urination is completed (residual urine) increases. As a result, people may have to urinate more frequently and have a higher risk of urinary tract infections.

Age-related changes in the urethra

Age-related changes in the prostate gland

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Urethritis
Urethritis is an infection of the urethra, the tube that transports urine out of the body from the bladder. Many organisms can cause urethritis. Which of the following is an organism that commonly causes urethritis in men, but is more likely to infect reproductive organs in women?  
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