The actual human urinary system, also known as the renal system, is shown in Figure 16.3.2. The system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The main function of the urinary system is to eliminate the waste products of metabolism from the body by forming and excreting urine.

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Typically, between one and two litres of urine are produced every day in a healthy individual.

16.3.2 The components of the urinary system include the two kidneys, two ureters, bladder, and urethra. The urinary system is the same in males and females, except the urethra is longer in males.

The urinary system is all about urine. It includes organs that form urine, and also those that transport, store, or excrete urine.


Urine is formed by the kidneys, which filter many substances out of the blood, allow the blood to reabsorb needed materials, and use the remaining materials to form urine. The human body normally has two paired kidneys, although it is possible to get by quite well with just one. As you can see in Figure 16.3.3, each kidney is well supplied with blood vessels by a major artery and vein. Blood to be filtered enters the kidney through the renal artery, and the filtered blood leaves the kidney through the renal vein. The kidney itself is wrapped in a fibrous capsule, and consists of a thin outer layer called the cortex, and a thicker inner layer called the medulla.

Figure 16.3.3 The structure of the kidney is specialized to filter blood and form and collect urine.

Blood is filtered and urine is formed by tiny filtering units called nephrons. Each kidney contains at least a million nephrons, and each nephron spans the cortex and medulla layers of the kidney. After urine forms in the nephrons, it flows through a system of converging collecting ducts. The collecting ducts join together to form minor calyces (or chambers) that join together to form major calyces (see Figure 16.3.3 above). Ultimately, the major calyces join the renal pelvis, which is the funnel-like end of the ureter where it enters the kidney.

Ureters, Bladder, Urethra

After urine forms in the kidneys, it is transported through the ureters (one per kidney) via peristalsis to the sac-like urinary bladder, which stores the urine until urination. During urination, the urine is released from the bladder and transported by the urethra to be excreted outside the body through the external urethral opening.

The formation of urine must be closely regulated to maintain body-wide homeostasis. Several endocrine hormones help control this function of the urinary system, including antidiuretic hormone, parathyroid hormone, and aldosterone.

Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called vasopressin, is secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. One of its main roles is conserving body water. It is released when the body is dehydrated, and it causes the kidneys to excrete less water in urine.Parathyroid hormone is secreted by the parathyroid glands. It works to regulate the balance of mineral ions in the body via its effects on several organs, including the kidneys. Parathyroid hormone stimulates the kidneys to excrete less calcium and more phosphorus in urine.Aldosterone is secreted by the cortex of the adrenal glands, which rest atop the kidneys, as shown in Figure 16.3.4. Through its effect on the kidneys, it plays a central role in regulating blood pressure. It causes the kidneys to excrete less sodium and water in urine.
Figure 16.3.4 The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They secrete aldosterone into the bloodstream, which carries it to the kidneys.
Figure 16.3.5 The urinary sphincter relaxes to allow urination.

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Once urine forms, it is excreted from the body in the process of urination, also sometimes referred to as micturition. This process is controlled by both the autonomic and the somatic nervous systems. As the bladder fills with urine, it causes the autonomic nervous system to signal smooth muscle in the bladder wall to contract (as shown in Figure 16.3.5), and the sphincter between the bladder and urethra to relax and open. This forces urine out of the bladder and through the urethra. Another sphincter at the distal end of the urethra is under voluntary control. When it relaxes under the influence of the somatic nervous system, it allows urine to leave the body through the external urethral opening.