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Intro to Urinary Retention

By Complete Care Specialist July 22, 2019

Urinary retention is the inability to partially or fully empty the bladder. This condition affects more people than you probably think. In this article, we take a look at the forms, causes, symptoms, and management of urinary retention in addition to going to your doctor. 

Not being able to fully empty your bladder can be frustrating. For some people, it can feel uncomfortable to talk about so they avoid talking to their doctor at all costs. However, urinary retention can only get more problematic if left untreated.  If you think you might be dealing with urinary retention, never hesitate to bring it up to your doctor.  

Once you address the issue with your doctor, you will know which form of urinary retention you’re dealing with.  Once you go over your symptoms and cause, your doctor can help you find the proper treatment for your specific case.

Forms of Urinary Retention

There are two forms of urinary retention: Acute and Chronic.

 Acute Urinary Retention

Acute Urinary Retention is the inability to pass urine at all and happens suddenly for a short period of time. This can be a life-threatening condition and requires emergency medical treatment. 

Chronic Urinary Retention

The more common form is Chronic Urinary Retention which is the inability to completely empty the bladder. This is typically a longer lasting condition and many people do not even know they have it until a complication arises. 

Urinary retention affects men 10 times more than women. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases completed research on men and urinary retention throughout their lifetime.  They report that in 1,000 men aged from 40-83, 4.5 to 6.3 will have a urinary retention incident each year.  However, by the time a man turns 80, the incidence of acute urinary retention is 300 per 1,000 men.

Causes of Urinary Retention

With more than one cause, it’s best to get properly tested by a physician. However, there are some common causes that have been linked to Urinary Retention. 


Sometimes a blockage can occur that blocks urine from flowing freely through the bladder and urethra. This can occur from things such as Urinary Tract Stones. 

For men, a blockage can occur when the prostate gland is enlarged and presses on the urethra. This is the most common cause for men with a chronic case. 

For women, one blockage cause is cystocele - the bladder sagging below its natural location.

Swelling and Infection

An infection within the prostate can lead to swelling. This swelling can cause the prostate to press against the urethra and block the urine flow. Urinary tract infections are another cause for swelling of the urethra.

Nerve Causes

The brain and bladder work together. If the bladder isn’t getting messages from the brain correctly, there is a problem with the bladder functioning properly. There are many conditions or events that can cause nerve interference and they can occur at any age. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Trauma, pressure or damage to the brain, pelvis or spine
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Herniated disk 
  • Stroke 
  • Vaginal childbirth
  • Pelvic injury or trauma 
  • Heavy metal poisoning 


Specific types of medication can alter the way the nerves and bladder muscles functions. The medications include, but aren’t limited to anticholinergics, tricyclic antidepressants, antispasmodics, antihistamines, antipsychotics, muscle relaxants, hormonal agents, and blood pressure medication.


The medication that is given when you get surgery to make you tired can lead to urinary retention after surgery. Some surgeries like hip replacement, surgery for women’s issues, rectal surgery, or hemorrhoid removal can cause the problem as well.

Symptoms of Urinary Retention

Some symptoms, typically associated with chronic urinary retention, to be on the lookout for are:

  • Trouble beginning or throughout urination
  • Weak urine stream 
  • Leaking urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Mild lower abdominal or urinary tract pressure
  • Urgency to urinate with little success 
  • Feeling of having to urinate after urination 
  • Inability to completely empty bladder

The below symptoms are typically associated with acute urinary retention and you should seek immediate medical attention if you may be experiencing them.  

  • Painful, urgent need to urinate 
  • Bloating
  • Inability to urinate 
  • Pain or discomfort in lower abdomen 

If you develop or are affected by these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get a diagnosis. Some people may feel that all of a sudden they are unable to urinate at all. If this happens, it’s vital to seek medical attention promptly, and this is usually the acute form of urinary retention. 

How to Proactively Manage Urinary Retention

Prevention can be one of your best lines of defense against urinary retention, so preventing and treating the possible causes is a good place to start. For example, women can engage in pelvic floor exercises like kegels, to strengthen their muscles in the pelvic floor. This can help prevent or improve cystocele. As with other conditions, a healthy lifestyle that is active and includes a balanced, healthy diet will help prevent some of the causes, like diabetes and can directly help prevent urinary retention. 

Acute urinary retention is a life-threatening medical condition and will require draining of the bladder, typically from catheterization. It may even require surgery to resolve. However, it’s more common to receive a diagnosis of chronic urinary retention, which is usually a long-lasting medical condition.

Treatment of Urinary Retention

Treatment and management for chronic urinary retention varies, but usually involves one of the following:


One of the most common causes for urinary retention, especially for men, is a large prostate. There are specific prostate medications that can help such as alpha blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. As mentioned above, some medications can cause urinary retention, so talking with your doctor and finding a replacement could help resolve your symptoms. 

Pain Relievers

Bladder infections and swelling can lead to urinary retention. This could leave you feeling pain and discomfort. Some pain medications can help with abdominal pain and cramps like Tylenol, Advil, or Motrin. 

However, keep in mind this pain medication is just for temporary relief.  You should still visit your doctor for a plan to treat your condition.

Urinary Catheters

Using a urinary catheter is one of the most common ways to manage urinary retention. A urinary catheter is a tube that is inserted into the urethra, reaches the bladder, and drains urine from the body. There are different sizes and types of catheters, and depending on your specific situation, your doctor will suggest the proper catheter. For any catheter related questions or inquiries your team at Complete Care Medical is happy to help. With our free sample program you can be sure to find the catheter that is right for you! Call us at (800) 503-7604.

Urethra Dilation

One of the treatments, usually done to treat a urethral stricture, is urethral dilation. The procedure involves inserting tubes into the urethra and widening the structure. This is usually done as an outpatient visit.

Urethral Stents

An artification tube, known as a stent, can be placed into the urethra in the area of the stricture. As the stent is put in, it will expand and push the surround tissue back, while widening the urethra. This is also an outpatient procedure.


If no other treatment options are available for a specific case, surgery may be needed. There is prostate surgery, internal urethrotomy,  and rectocele or cystocele repair.


If you suspect urinary retention, it’s vital to see your doctor right away. The sooner you get seen, there may be a greater potential outcome. Also be sure to keep up with any procedures to manage your condition properly.

Our team of specialists are always available to help and available if you need catheter or medical supplies to help maintain a healthy and happy life. Contact us today if you have any questions, comments, or concerns and we will be happy to address them. 

Phone: (800) 503-7604



Feel free to contact your Patient Care Representative directly.

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