Urinary retention causes, symptoms, and treatment

By: Emily Lunardo | Bladder | Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 03:30 PM

urinary retentionUrinary retention is the inability to fully empty your bladder. This condition can either be acute (temporary), or chronic – in which case it is something you must deal with for life. Albeit short-lived, acute urinary retention may be indicative of a life-threatening condition, so it does require immediate medical attention. Patients with chronic urinary retention are able to pass urine, but their bladders never fully empty. Many people are actually unaware of their urinary retention until another issue – like a urinary tract infection – arises.

Both men and women can develop urinary retention, but it is more common in males in their 50s and 60s due to an enlarged prostate. Women who develop urinary retention may also suffer from a condition known as cystocele in which the bladder begins to sag from its normal position and bulge into the vagina.

Causes of urinary retention

There are two main types of urinary retention: obstructive and non-obstructive. If there is an obstruction such as a bladder or kidney stone, then urine cannot properly be released, resulting in some urine remaining in the bladder after urination. In this case, urinary retention can be life threatening, and you will require immediate medical intervention.

Obstructive causes for urinary retention include an enlarged prostate, certain tumors or cancers, urethral stricture, cystocele, rectocele (the bladder sags into the colon), constipation, and bladder or kidney stones.

Non-obstructive urinary retention is caused by the weakening of the bladder muscles or nerve problems disrupting the communication between the bladder and the brain. Causes of non-obstructive urinary retention include stroke, vaginal childbirth, pelvic injury or trauma, nerve diseases, impaired muscle or nerve function, and accidents that have injured the spinal cord or brain.

Signs, symptoms, and complications of urinary retention

dysuria painful urinationSigns and symptoms of urinary retention can vary depending on the type of the condition.

Symptoms of acute urinary retention include:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Painful or urgent need to urinate
  • Severe pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen
  • Bloating in the lower abdomen

Chronic urinary retention symptoms include:

  • Urinary frequency
  • Trouble beginning a urine stream
  • Weak or interrupted urine stream
  • Urgent need to go with little success in urinating
  • Feeling the need to urinate even after you just did
  • Mild and constant discomfort in the lower abdomen and urinary tract
  • Difficulty fully emptying the bladder
  • Urge incontinence
  • Inability to feel when the bladder is full
  • Increased abdominal pressure
  • Strained efforts to push urine out
  • Nocturia (nighttime urination)

Complications that can arise with urinary retention include UTIs, bladder damage, kidney damage, as well as urinary incontinence after prostate, tumor, or cancer surgery.

Diagnosis and treatment of urinary retention

Acute urinary retention is diagnosed based on the symptoms and discomfort you experience. Diagnosing chronic urinary retention, on the other hand, may not be as easy, as your doctor may only discover the condition after running a series of tests.

Tests to help diagnose urinary retention include a physical examination, post void residual measurement, cystoscopy, CT scans, urodynamic tests, and electromyography. These tests are essential for diagnosing urinary retention as well as ruling out other causes for bladder and urinary tract problems.

Treatment for urinary retention may involve bladder drainage, urethral dilation, urethral stents, prostate medications, and surgery.

To prevent urinary retention, men should regularly go for prostate check-up and take any prescribed medications to avoid complications. You should also be aware of the fact that some medications, such as cold and allergy drugs, can trigger urinary retention.

Women can work to prevent urinary retention by strengthening pelvic floor muscles with specific exercises, like Kegels.

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