Female Urethra - Urinary Discharge, Infections, Diseases, UTI
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Female Urethra: The Conduit for Urinary Discharge

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 20 Dec 2014 - 10:49.

Female Urethra

The urethra is a tube that connects the urinary bladder to the urinary meatus for the removal of fluids from the body. In both genders, the urethra works as a tube connecting the urinary bladder to the genitals. Though the urethra in both males and females serves the same function of discharging urine, there is one unique difference between the two namely the male urethra has a dual function in that it also discharges semen during sexual intercourse besides discharging urine at all other times and its size is longer than the female urethra.

Anatomy: The female urethra which is shorter than the male urethra measures around 4 cm in length extending from the internal urethral opening in the urinary bladder to the external urinary opening situated just above the vaginal orifice. It is a narrow membranous canal placed behind the pubic symphysis (the junction between the two pubic bones) and embedded in the front wall of the vagina. It travels obliquely downward and frontward and is slightly curved with the concave part directing forward.

The diameter of the female urethra when not dilated is roughly 6 mm. During its course, it perforates a thick tissue called urogenital diaphragm. Its external orifice lies between the clitoris and the vaginal opening. Its lining membrane has longitudinal folds and one of these folds called the urethral crest is placed along the floor of the urethral canal. Several small urethral glands open into the walls of the urethra.

Structure: Structurally the female urethra consists of three layers, muscular, erectile and mucous coats. The muscular coat is continuous with that of the urinary bladder and extends throughout its length. It also has a band of circular muscle fibers that act as sphincter urethrae like in a male urethra controlling the flow of urine depending on whether the bladder is full or empty. The thin layer consisting of spongy erectile tissue has a plexus of large veins intermixed with muscle fibers lies immediately beneath the mucous coat. The mucous coat is lined by striated squamous epithelium and is continuous with the bladder internally and vagina externally.

Conditions affecting female urethra:

Like in a male urethra, several conditions affect the female urethra. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. The female urethra being very short is more prone for urinary tract infections than in the male urethra.

Cystitis: This is a condition where the bladder and with is the urethra gets inflamed due to bacterial infections and is more common in females than in males due to the short length and susceptible for all bacteria to ascend to the bladder very easily. Every woman must have had at least one attack of cystitis during her lifetime and most of them have recurrent attacks. Pain and frequency of urination are the common symptoms and treatment lies in selecting appropriate antibiotics depending on which bacteria have invaded.

Urinary incontinence: This condition as the name implies is characterized by inability to control passage of urine resulting in involuntary passage without the knowledge of the patient. Urinary incontinence is more common in females, the cause for this condition is due to loss of control at the sphincter level at the neck of the bladder. This condition is of four types namely stress, urge, overflow and total incontinence depending on the cause. Treatment depends on the cause.

Urinary retention: Though more common in males females also suffer from this condition when there is partial or total inability to pass urine resulting in retention of urine in the bladder. Anything that exerts pressure on the urethra may lead to partial or total retention of urine. In women pressure on the bladder during early pregnancy may lead to transient retention, which disappears as soon as the pressure is released after delivery.

It is therefore essential to keep the bladder empty during labor and catheterization is a must if the bladder is full before first stage of labor. Even constipation in women may lead to pressure of the rectum on the bladder leading to retention. Stones in the bladder neck and tumors in the bladder can also lead to retention of urine. Treatment depends on the cause. However, whatever be the reason catheterization to empty the bladder is a must to prevent back flush and damage to kidneys.

Urinary tract infections: Most common in women due to easy accessibility of infections. The common infection is due to E.Coli infection. Treatment depends on the bacteria isolated on culture and sensitivity test of a urine sample. Commonly known as UTI, this infection is so common in females that women suffer 50 times more than men.

Tumors in the bladder: These can be benign or malignant. The urethra might also get involved. Early detection and remedial action can prevent invasion into the urethra and other organs nearby.

Complete disruption of female urethra: This is of rare occurrence. That may result from complete rupture of the bladder neck with laceration of the anterior vaginal wall secondary to pelvic trauma with a blunt instrument. Accidental rupture of the female urethra though uncommon may occur due to blunt accidents to the vulva.

Sexually Transmitted diseases: The female urethra like in males bears the brunt of sexually transmitted conditions like gonococcal urethritis, syphylitic urethritis and vaginal warts. Treatment depends on the cause. Post medical treatment may need dilatation of the urethra with urethral sounds if there is a stricture.

*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.