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11.39: Excretory System Problems

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Why drink water?

It's always a good idea to drink plenty of fluids, especially when you have been exercising. Drinking plenty of water helps to flush away materials that might form kidney stones. Staying hydrated is the best way to prevent kidney stones.

Problems of the Excretory System

The urinary system controls the amount of water in the body and removes wastes. Any problem with the urinary system can also affect many other body systems.

Kidney Stones

In some cases, certain mineral wastes can form kidney stones (Figure below). Stones form in the kidneys and may be found anywhere in the urinary system. Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together. They can vary in size, from small stones that can flow through your urinary system, to larger stones that cannot. Some stones cause great pain, while others cause very little pain. Some stones may need to be removed by surgery or ultrasound treatments.

A kidney stone can form anywhere in the urinary system and can be very painful

A kidney stone. The stones can form anywhere in the urinary system.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones? You may have a kidney stone if you have pain while urinating, see blood in your urine, and/or feel a sharp pain in your back or lower abdomen (the area between your chest and hips). The pain may last for a long or short time. You may also have nausea and vomiting with the pain. If you have a small stone that passes on its own easily, you may not experience any symptoms. If you have some of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Kidney failure

Kidney failure happens when the kidneys cannot remove wastes from the blood. If the kidneys are unable to filter wastes from the blood, the wastes build up in the body. Kidney failure can be caused by an accident that injures the kidneys, the loss of a lot of blood, or by some drugs and poisons. Kidney failure may lead to permanent loss of kidney function. But if the kidneys are not seriously damaged, they may recover.

Chronic kidney disease is the slow decrease in kidney function that may lead to permanent kidney failure. A person who has lost kidney function may need to get kidney dialysis. Kidney dialysis is the process of filtering the blood of wastes using a machine. A dialysis machine (Figure below) filters waste from the blood by pumping the blood through a fake kidney. The filtered blood is then returned to the patient’s body.

During dialysis, a patient's blood is filtered and returned to the body

During dialysis, a patient’s blood is sent through a filter that removes waste products. The clean blood is returned to the body.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections of any part of the urinary tract. When bacteria get into the bladder or kidney and produce more bacteria in the urine, they cause a UTI. The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection. Women get UTIs more often than men. UTIs are often treated with antibiotics.

Most UTIs are not serious, but some infections can lead to serious problems. Long lasting kidney infections can cause permanent damage, including kidney scars, poor kidney function, high blood pressure, and other problems. Some sudden kidney infections can be life threatening, especially if the bacteria enter the bloodstream, a condition called septicemia.

What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?

  • a burning feeling when you urinate,
  • frequent or intense urges to urinate, even when you have little urine to pass,
  • pain in your back or side below the ribs,
  • cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul-smelling urine,
  • fever or chills.

You should see your doctor if you have signs of a UTI. Your doctor will diagnose a UTIs by asking about your symptoms and then testing a sample of your urine.


  • Disorders of the urinary system include kidney stones, kidney failure, and urinary tract infections.
  • Kidney dialysis is the process of filtering wastes from the blood using a machine.

Explore More

Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is kidney disease? What is chronic kidney disease? How are they similar, and how do they differ?
  2. What is kidney failure? How can people deal with kidney failure?
  3. What are two causes of chronic kidney disease?
  4. How can doctors test for kidney disease?
  5. How can they treat kidney disease?


  1. Why do kidney stones form?
  2. What is a urinary tract infection?
  3. What is kidney failure?

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kidney dialysis Process of filtering wastes from the blood using a machine.
kidney failure Inability of the kidneys to remove wastes from the blood or to maintain homeostasis.
kidney stone Small hard mass in the kidney that forms from waste minerals.
urinary tract infection Bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
7 , 8
Date Created:
Nov 29, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 30, 2016
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