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Female Urethra - Anatomy, Functions, and Conditions Affecting It

Published on Oct 26, 2022 and last reviewed on Jan 24, 2023   -  5 min read


The female urethra is an important part of the renal system. This article explains the anatomy, function, and conditions affecting the urethra.

Introduction -

The female ureter is a narrow membranous canal, a part of the renal system, along with the kidney, bladder, and urethral. It is about four centimeters long and extends from the internal to the external urethral orifice. The renal system is in charge of producing, storing, and eliminating liquid waste from the body through urine. The function of the urethra is to transport urine stored in the bladder out of the body. The urethra is closely connected with the female reproductive organs, so the male and female urethra have different anatomy.

What Is the Anatomy of the Female Urethra?

The female urethra is a highly vascular, four-centimeter-long spongy, cylindrical structure that is designed to provide continence. It begins at the bottom of the called bladder neck, extends down through the pelvic floor muscles, and terminates at the vaginal vestibule. It is a richly vascular spongy cylinder and is designed to provide continence. It is about six millimeters in diameter when undilated. The female urethra is shorter than the male urethra, making it have a higher risk for urinary tract infections. The urethra opens into the area between the labia minora called the vestibule. The urethral opening is situated just in front of the vaginal opening. The urethra consists of three layers that are muscular, erectile, and mucous.

  • The muscular coat continues with that of the bladder. This layer extends the full length of the tube and has circle fibers.

  • The erectile layer is a thin layer of spongy tissues, which contains a plexus of large veins mixed with bundles of muscular fibers. This layer lies immediately beneath the mucous coat.

  • The mucous layer is internally continuous with the bladder and externally continuous with the vulva. The layer is lined by a layer of cells called the stratified squamous epithelium. Some glands produce mucus within the urethra. This mucus protects the epithelium from the damage caused by corrosive urine.

What Is the Main Function of the Female Urethra?

The urethra’s main function is to pass urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. This is performed when the brain signals the bladder to squeeze and the sphincter muscle to relax to release urine through the urethra.

The same mechanism is used to ejaculate in males, and the sperm is carried out through the urethra. The difference between urination and ejaculation is that men have nerves in the spinal cord, seminal vesicles, vas deferens, and prostate that collaborate in closing the opening of the bladder and moving the semen out of the penis instead of the brain, sphincter muscle, and bladder communicating in females.

What Symptoms Occur if the Urethra Is Affected?

The most common conditions of the urethra include:

What Conditions Can Affect the Urethra?

The common conditions that affect the urethra are as follows:

1) Urethritis - Urethritis is the inflammation of the urethra, and it is different from a UTI. Urethritis can occur due to the placement of the catheter or as a response to the use of a urinary procedure. It can also occur due to a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In addition, bacteria can spread from the anus if wiped back from the anus to the front after going to the bathroom. The symptoms can include

  • Increased urge to urinate.

  • Blood in the urine.

  • Burning sensation while urinating.

  • Foul-smelling urine.

  • Cloudy urine.

  • Pelvic pain.

2) Urethral Diverticulum - A urethral diverticulum is a pouch or pouch that forms along the length of the urethra. This pocket gets continuously filled with urine while urinating because of its position. This can lead to pain, frequent infections, problems urinating, tender area or mass on the vaginal wall, leaking after urinating, and urinary incontinence. Urethral diverticulum is usually a congenital defect (present from birth), it can also be acquired, but the cause is unknown.

3) Urethral Stricture - When the urethra narrows or becomes blocked, it is known as urethral stricture. It is very common in males due to their long urethra; however, it affects females too. An injury usually causes it to the urethra by surgery or accident. Sexually transmitted infections can also cause it. The symptoms are pain during urination, decreased urine flow, blood in the urine, and abdominal pain. It is usually corrected by surgery.

4) Urethral Cancer - This is one of the rarer types of cancer. It can spread rapidly to the surrounding tissues in the bladder and vagina. Its symptoms do not occur during the early stage. Still, eventually, urethral cancer can cause blood in urine, decreased urine flow, increased need to urinate, and bleeding or discharge from the urethra. The treatment can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of all

5) Urethral Caruncle - It is a benign mass found in the urethra after menopause. Normally, it does not show any symptoms. However, a few women may have bleeding from the urethra or painful urination. The exact cause is unknown, but a low estrogen level might be involved. Large urethral caruncles can be removed surgically. In other cases, topical anti-inflammatories or estrogen creams can be used.

What Are the Tests to Diagnose Urethra Disorders?

The following are the tests used in diagnosing disorders of the ureter:

  • Urinalysis - Microscopic and biochemical examination of the urine can help detect any infections and inflammation.

  • Ultrasound - Ultrasound images of the abdominal area will help in diagnosing any issues in the urethra.

  • Cystoscopy - A thin tube with a camera is inserted through the urinary opening into the urethra with a live video feed.

How to Maintain a Healthy Urethra?

  • Stay Hydrated - Drinking plenty of water helps remove bacteria and other pathogens from the urinary tract.

  • Wipe Front to Back - Avoid wiping back from the anus to the front after going to the bathroom. It can spread bacteria from the anal area to the urethra.

  • Urinate After Intercourse - This helps flush out bacteria in or around the urethra.

  • Practice Safe Sex - Using protection during intercourse may prevent SITs.

  • Eat Foods That Prevent UTIs - Vitamin C-rich foods like cranberries, oranges, and blueberries may prevent bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract lining. This is because it is harder for bacteria to live in acidic environments.

  • Avoid Irritants - Stay away from douches, scented sprays, or other personal care products that can irritate the urethra.

  • Get Regular Examinations - Regular checkups help identify STIs and cancers earlier.

  • Wear Cotton Underwear and Loose-Fitting Clothes - Wearing breathable cotton underwear and loose garments helps remove extra moisture and prevent bacterial growth.

Conclusion -

The female urethra is a narrow, spongy, cylindrical tube four centimeters long. Its main function is to eliminate urine from the bladder to the outside. Many conditions and diseases can affect the ureter and cause symptoms like painful urination, blood in urine, foul-smelling urine, pain in the abdominal area, etc. If any symptoms occur, consult a doctor to rule out the cause.

Frequently Asked Questions


Where Exactly Is the Female Urethra Located?

The female urethra is a part of the urinary system. It is located in the pelvic region. It begins at the bottom of the bladder (neck) and extends downward through the muscular area of the pelvic floor. It is present within the vaginal wall and opens between the labia.


What Does Urethra Look Like?

The urethra carries urine from the bladder to the urethral meatus. It comprises smooth muscles, epithelial tissue, and connective tissue. Unlike males, the female urethra is not complex or S-shaped. Instead, it is a simple tube that extends from the bladder.


Can You See the Female Urethra?

No, you cannot see the urethra as it is located inside the body in the pelvic region. However, the urethral meatus can be located above the vaginal opening. It isn't easy even to locate the urethral meatus.


What Is the Female Urethral Opening Called?

The urethra opens to the outside of the body through an orifice called the urethral meatus. It is located below the clitoris and above the vaginal opening. The size of the urethral meatus is very small and cannot be seen or felt easily.


What Is the Size of the Female Urethral Opening?

The female urethra is 4 cm long. The diameter of the female urethra is about 6mm. The size of the female urethra, if you assign a female child, is 1.5 inches, and for a male child, it can range from 8 to 9 inches.


What Causes Swollen Urethra?

The swollen or inflamed urethra is called urethritis. It is generally caused by sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, and gonococcal urethritis. The symptoms of swollen urethra include fever and chills, itching, pelvic pain, and vaginal discharge.


What Are the Unique Features of the Female Urethra?

The female urethra is shorter than the male urethra. It lies completely in the pelvic region. It is wider than the male urethra. The male urethra carries urine and semen, whereas the female urethra carries only urine.


How Do You Treat an Inflamed Female Urethra?

An inflamed urethra or urethritis is an infection of the urethra. It can be treated alone or with antibiotics such as Ofloxacin, Azithromycin, Levofloxacin, Doxycycline, Ceftriaxone, and Cefixime. To prevent further irritation to the urethra, avoid wearing tight clothes or using soaps containing irritating chemicals.


What Does an Irritated Urethra Feel Like?

Symptoms of an irritating urethra are:
- Pain during urination.
- Abdominal or pelvic pain.
- Pain at the urethral opening.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Penile or vaginal discharge.


Why Is My Urethral Opening So Large?

The enlarged urethral opening can be due to urethral prolapse. In such a case, the urethral opening looks like a small donut and appears larger than normal. However, the enlarged urethral opening can also be seen in urethritis.


How Does a Woman Get Urethritis?

A viral or bacterial infection causes urethritis in women. Most commonly, it is caused by sexually transmitted infections. The bacterias causing the condition include chlamydia, E.coli, and gonorrhea.


What Happens if Urethritis Is Left Untreated?

Urethritis can heal on its own. However, if sexually transmitted infections cause it, the microorganisms can stay in the body. Such untreated infections can cause:
- Swelling of the penis.
- Urethral blockages or strictures.
- Swelling of lymph channels in the penis.
- Abscess in the urethra.
- Infertility.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Reactive arthritis.

Last reviewed at:
24 Jan 2023  -  5 min read




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