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Urinary Retention

Urinary retention is condition in which the bladder does not empty completely. You may find you are unable to pass urine at all or start passing urine but when the stream has finished feel there is more urine to pass.

Urinary retention can be treated. Depending on the severity of the retention, if left untreated, there can be serious consequences. If you suspect you have urinary retention, you are strongly advised to contact your doctor.

The sections below contain more information about urinary retention and how it can be managed.

What is urinary retention?

There are two types:

Acute urinary retention: this is a sudden inability to pass urine – it is very painful as the bladder becomes increasingly distended. You should go straight to a doctor (preferably an urologist) to have your bladder drained.

Chronic (long-term) urinary retention: this happens gradually over months or years and you may be unaware that it is happening. You may develop symptoms such as having to pass urine frequently, straining to pass urine, intermittent stream and never feeling you have emptied completely.

  • In order to pass urine, your bladder must contract and the opening (sphincter muscle around the urethra) must relax. If either of these does not happen urine cannot easily leave the bladder. Sometimes both problems are combined e.g. in Multiple Sclerosis.

  • Urinary retention is more common in men and is most commonly due to enlargement of the prostate gland compressing the urethra and blocking the exit from the bladder.

  • Urinary retention is less common in women. It can occur after surgery or childbirth or be related to prolapse.

How is urinary retention managed?

Treatment of urinary retention involves dealing with the cause. For example, removal of an enlarged prostate or other blockage. While treatment is taking effect or if treatment fails, it is important to ensure that the bladder can drain properly. This is done using a catheter.

There are two methods:

  • Indwelling catheterisation: the catheter is left in place in the bladder and connected to a drainage bag for continual drainage or a catheter valve. There is more information about indwelling catheterisation here.

  • Intermittent catheterisation: the catheter is inserted and removed periodically. You may be taught to do this yourself, or have a helper do it. There is more information about intermittent catheterisation here.

Continence Product Advisor

Incontinence can often be cured. Incontinence is a problem with one or more underlying causes that can often be cured or improved. Whatever your age seeking help is always advisable. Take the first step to getting help by contacting a health professional or continence organisation in your country.

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