Ureters, Bladder & Urethra: Structures, Function & Medical Terms

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  • 00:00 The Urinary System
  • 1:20 Ureters, Bladder, Urethra
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

This lesson is going to cover the ureters, bladder, and urethra of the urinary tract. We spend some time discussing the functions of these structures. We will also go over some basic terms associated with the urinary system.

The Urinary System

You are just now laying down to go to sleep after a long day. After you toss about a little bit, you finally find the perfect position and you are comfortable. And then it hits you. You have to pee! You have a short debate with yourself about whether you can hold it until the morning and of course, you realize you can't. So off to the bathroom you go, to ease your mind.

There isn't a lot of conscious thought going into what you are doing, but your urinary tract carried out some very distinct functions to make the pee that you are now releasing. There are many parts to your urinary system and each part has a specific function in the process of creating and excreting pee.

Let's hit some basic terms first so we are all on the same page. 'Pee' is a commonly-used word, but the medical term for this substance is urine. Urine is a liquid mixture of excess water and electrolytes as well as wastes that were filtered from the blood. The act of releasing urine from the urinary tract to outside of the body is known as micturition or urination. Urine formation and urination are carried out by the urinary tract. The urinary tract is the set of structures that make up the urinary system.

Water is the largest component in your urine. The nitrogenous wastes called urea are the next largest part of urine. Now that we got the basics out of the way, let's get to the technical stuff!

Ureters, Bladder, Urethra

The first structure the urine passes through once leaving the kidneys is the ureter. There's a ureter, or tube from the kidney to the bladder, attached to each kidney. Gravity does most of the work of getting the urine through the ureters, but the ureters also help by doing wave-like contractions called peristalsis to move the urine along.

The bladder is the next structure on the journey where the ureters empty the urine. It serves as a holding reservoir for urine until you are ready for urination. The bladder changes shape based on if it is empty or full of urine. When it is empty, it looks like an inverted pyramid and when it is full, it is shaped like an oval. Within the base of the bladder is a structure known as a trigone. The trigone is the triangular area made up of the openings from the ureters and the opening into the urethra.

The urethra is the tube from the bladder to the outside of the body. Flow of urine into the urethra is controlled by the urinary sphincter, which consists of muscles that surround the opening from the bladder into the urethra. You are actually very aware of one of these muscles because it is the one you are using when you are trying to hold it. Yep, that's the muscle you learned to control many years ago during potty training.

The urethra is essentially just a passageway for urine to exit the body. There is a major difference in the length of the urethra in males versus females due to how our bodies are made. The urethra in males is about 6 to 7 inches long while the urethra in females is about 1 ½ inches long. Another difference in the area of the urethra is the fact that males have a prostate gland that surrounds the urethra. This is a reproductive gland in males that doesn't serve a purpose in the urinary system, but can cause problems with urination if the gland becomes diseased or swollen.

Now that the urine has come down the urethra, it will flow through the exit from the urinary system known as the urinary meatus or urinary orifice. So, now it is on to the toilet!

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