April 18, 2024
April 18, 2024

Bladder Function Basics: From Anatomy to Care

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Bladder Function Basics: From Anatomy to Care

Your bladder is an important organ and a vital component of the urinary system. It stores and releases urine from the body. In this article, you’ll learn about bladder anatomy and normal and abnormal bladder function. You’ll also learn some practical tips for keeping your bladder healthy.

Anatomy of the Urinary Bladder

Bladder function: Urinary Bladder and Urethra infographic

The bladder is a muscular, hollow organ in the lower part of your abdominal cavity. It’s part of the urinary system consisting of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, which work together to eliminate wastes from the body and balance electrolytes. 

Knowledge of bladder anatomy can help you understand and discuss any problems with your doctor and improve your care. The bladder walls have several layers that include:

  • Inner lining (urothelium)
  • Smooth muscle (detrusor)
  • Outer connective tissue layer

Other components of the bladder include:

  • Apex or dome: The top portion of the bladder
  • Fundus: The rounded base of the bladder that stretches to hold more urine
  • Trigone: The triangular area at the bottom of the bladder that makes up the bladder floor. 
  • Bladder neck: The funnel-shaped portion that connects the bladder to a tube called the urethra
  • Detrusor: A muscle that contracts to push urine out of the bladder
  • Internal urethral sphincter: An involuntary muscle at the bladder neck that helps retain urine in the bladder
  • Urethra: A tube that empties urine from the body 
  • Blood vessels: These supply blood flow to the bladder tissues
  • Nerves: Sensory nerves send messages to the brain when they sense the bladder is full — motor nerves receive messages from the brain that send signals to the sphincter when you are ready to urinate
  • Connective tissue: These are the ligaments that support the bladder to hold it in place
  • Peritoneum: Part of the bladder's surface is covered by the peritoneum, a membrane lining the abdominal cavity

How Does the Bladder Function?

The bladder’s primary function is to store urine until you are ready to void (urinate). Your urine contains waste products left over after the kidney filters your blood. Ureters, the two tubes that transport urine to the bladder, connect to the kidneys.

  1. As urine accumulates in the bladder, the elastic walls made of the detrusor muscle expand to hold the increasing volume
  2. While the bladder is filling up, the internal urethral sphincter stays closed — this prevents urinary incontinence (accidental leakage)
  3. Stretch receptors in the bladder sense that the bladder is full and sends a message to the brain when it reaches capacity
  4. Upon reaching capacity, at 400 to 600 ml (14 to 20 ounces), you’ll feel a strong urge to urinate
  5. When you are ready, the external urethral sphincter relaxes voluntarily, allowing the urine to exit the body through the urethra

What Are Some Common Bladder Issues?

Bladder dysfunction occurs when there’s a disruption in feedback from the nerves to the brain or when the muscles weaken due to aging or disorder. Here’s a breakdown of the most common bladder dysfunctions

  • Urinary incontinence: Involuntary leakage of urine, which may be caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, overactive bladder, or nerve damage 
  • Overactive bladder (OAB): Characterized by a sudden urge to urinate or an increase in urinary frequency or the number of times you feel the need to void 
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI): Cystitis (inflammation of the urethra) is usually caused by a bacterial infection of the urinary system localized to the bladder and urethra 
  • Interstitial cystitis: A chronic condition that causes pain, spasms, pressure, and feeling like you need to urinate when your bladder is empty
  • Bladder stones: Hard-formed granules or mineral deposits in concentrated urine
  • Urinary retention: Difficulty emptying the bladder leading to urinary urgency as the bladder fills; this can be painful and may require emergency intervention 
  • Bladder cancer: Abnormal growth of cells in the bladder lining can lead to bladder cancer

Helpful Tips for Maintaining Bladder Function and Urinary Health

Bladder function: couple drinking from their water bottles

Unless you’re experiencing bladder issues, you probably don’t think about your urinary tract often. However, if you have experienced bladder issues, you likely know that the discomfort is far from trivial. Fortunately, it isn’t completely out of your hands. Here are some helpful ways to keep your bladder functioning properly.

1. Focus on Staying Hydrated

Drink enough water to flush out bacteria and toxins before they build up to high levels in your bladder. You may have heard to drink half of your weight in ounces. That rule of thumb isn’t suitable for everyone. The amount of water you need can vary based on factors like temperature outside, physical activity level, diet, and overall health.

General guidelines: Since 2004, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has recommended a daily water intake for healthy individuals of about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for women from all beverages and foods. This is a general recommendation, so actual needs may vary.

Listen to your body: Thirst is a reliable indicator for most healthy people. Urine color is another indicator — pale yellow urine typically indicates good hydration.

Consult your healthcare professional: People with certain health conditions, such as heart or kidney disease, may need to limit their fluid intake. Such individuals should follow the guidance of their healthcare provider.

2. Practice Pelvic Floor Exercises

Most women have probably heard about doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor. However, pelvic floor exercises are helpful for men and women who want to improve tone and preserve or restore muscle-related bladder dysfunction. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • To find the right muscles, imagine you're trying to stop passing gas; this should isolate the muscles you need to work on
  • You will be tightening the muscles as if you’re holding in urine (trying not to pee)
  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Tighten the muscles and hold for 3-5 seconds or until you feel your muscles lifting up
  • Release the muscles
  • Rest for several seconds
  • Repeat 10–20 times 
  • Practice this for a few minutes each day

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

A diet that includes lots of alcohol, caffeine, and acidic or spicy foods that irritate your bladder may make urinary tract inflammation more painful. Consuming alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods can be bad for your bladder health, especially if you have a sensitive bladder or problems with your urinary tract. Alcohol and caffeine can make you feel like you need to go to the bathroom more often, worsening conditions like interstitial cystitis or urinary incontinence. 

Spicy foods can also irritate your bladder, particularly if you already have inflammation in your urinary tract, causing more pain or burning when you pee. While not everyone reacts the same way, it’s a good idea to recognize how much of these things you consume before a bladder flare-up. 

4. Go When You Feel the Urge

Holding your urine for too long isn't great for your bladder function. When you do this often, your bladder can get stretched out, making full bladder emptying more difficult later. By waiting to go, you may think you’re improving bladder control. However, this overstretching can weaken the bladder muscles and sphincter muscles over time, and you might not be able to control your pee as well as before, leading to issues like urinary incontinence. Sometimes this can lead to bladder spasms, a painful condition caused by irregular bladder contractions.

Also, if urine stays in your bladder for too long, it can give bacteria a chance to grow, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). It's much better to go to the bathroom when you first feel the need to keep your bladder working properly and avoid these problems.

Don’t Wait to Make Bladder Health a Goal

Bladder function: senior couple jogging outdoors

Your bladder is a complex organ that relies on the coordination of muscles, nerves, and the central nervous system to function properly. Understanding the physiology of bladder function and adopting healthy habits can help you maintain optimal bladder health and prevent or manage common issues. If you experience persistent bladder problems or suspect an underlying condition, don't hesitate to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Ezra aims to be your partner in proactive healthcare, helping you stay ahead of health concerns. Ezra’s Full Body Scan is a screening MRI that provides an overview of your body's internal health. This advanced scan can detect problems early on, before symptoms arise, giving you a better chance for timely intervention and treatment. 

Book online today and take a significant step towards maintaining your health. Knowing you're doing your best to stay informed is an investment in peace of mind.