urinary retention

Urinary Retention: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Having trouble urinating? You may be experiencing urinary retention.

Urinary retention is a condition in which someone struggles to empty their bladder. If you’re suffering from urinary retention, you may be unable to fully empty your bladder, or you might not be able to start urinating at all.

Keep reading to learn about the symptoms and causes of urinary retention, as well as ways to lower your chances of developing the condition using urinary retention remedies, and medical treatment options that can help you find relief.

Symptoms of Urinary Retention

Symptoms differ depending on whether you’re experiencing acute or chronic urinary retention.

Acute urinary retention is the sudden inability to urinate despite having a full bladder — and it’s a medical emergency that should be treated immediately.

Acute urinary retention symptoms include:

  • A complete inability to urinate
  • A painful and urgent need to urinate
  • Pain, swelling, or bloating in the lower abdomen

Meanwhile, chronic urinary retention develops more gradually. Typically, people with this form of urinary retention can urinate, but they can’t completely empty all of the urine from their bladder.

Chronic urinary retention symptoms include:

  • The need to urinate, but with little success
  • Having to strain to urinate 
  • Feeling the need to urinate again shortly after using the bathroom
  • A weakened stream of urine
  • Urinating more than eight times per day
  • Urinary incontinence

Causes of Urinary Retention

Blockage in the urethra

In order to urinate, all parts of your urinary tract need to be working properly — anything that blocks the flow of urine can cause urinary retention. In men, the urethra may be blocked by an enlarged prostate, which is a common condition for older males. Blockages can also be caused by conditions such as urinary tract infections, urinary stones, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Weak bladder muscles

The bladder is a balloon-shaped muscle designed to stretch as it fills up and contracts as it empties. Therefore, weak bladder muscles are a common cause of urinary retention, as they may not contract with enough strength to completely empty the bladder. Pregnancy, childbirth, and aging are all factors that can weaken bladder muscles.

Recent procedures

Although only temporary, it is common for people to develop urinary retention after surgery. Most surgeries require anesthesia, which prevents you from feeling the need to urinate, despite having a full bladder. Additionally, procedures such as hip replacement, rectal surgery, and hemorrhoid removal surgery can cause urinary retention.

Medications

Certain drugs interfere with nerve signals to your bladder or urethra, which can cause urinary retention. Medications with these side effects include decongestants, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and opioids. If you’re using any of these medications, stop using them and see if your ability to urinate improves. 

Holding your bladder

Have you ever needed to urinate for a long time, only to find that your urine stream is weak or you’re unable to go at all? People often hold their bladder when it’s inconvenient to use the restroom; however, this causes your bladder to swell and can lead to urinary retention. Don’t wait — use the bathroom whenever you feel the urge to go. 

How to Manage or Prevent Mild Urinary Retention

Urinary retention isn’t always preventable, but these steps can help lower your chances of developing the condition, as well as manage your symptoms if they do occur.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is one of the most non-invasive urinary retention remedies that both men and women can benefit from. Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Keegel exercises, are an effective way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which can improve the function of your bladder and help prevent urinary retention. 

Train your bladder

Believe it or not, it is possible to train your bladder! Urinating at specific times can help prevent your bladder from becoming too full. To make sure your bladder is completely empty, another bladder training technique is to wait a short amount of time after urinating before trying to go again. When using the bathroom, it is also helpful to take extra time to relax your muscles and empty your bladder.

Take medication as prescribed

An enlarged prostate is a common cause of urinary retention. If you’re currently taking prostate medication, it is important to take this medication regularly as prescribed by your doctor to prevent urinary retention. Additionally, we recommend avoiding certain medications that can lead to urinary retention, such as decongestants and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Modify your diet

Constipation is another cause of urinary retention that can be prevented by making simple modifications to your diet and lifestyle. Incorporating enough fiber into your diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular physical activity can all help lower your chances of developing urinary retention. 

Take a warm bath

If your main symptom is a weak urine stream, then relaxing your lower urinary tract muscles or pelvic floor muscles could be a simple urinary retention remedy. In addition to physical therapy, a warm bath is a good way to relax the muscles and aid urination. 

When to See a Doctor

Seek emergency care immediately if you’re unable to urinate or you’re experiencing severe pain in your lower abdomen. These are symptoms of acute urinary retention, which is very serious and can be life-threatening if it’s not treated as soon as possible. If you’re experiencing any other urinary retention symptoms, it is still important to talk with your healthcare professional, as chronic urinary retention can also cause serious health problems if left untreated.

To treat acute urinary retention, your urologist will drain the bladder by placing a catheter into your urethra. Removing the urine from your bladder will provide immediate relief and help prevent your bladder and kidneys from being damaged.

For chronic urinary retention, your urologist will assess your symptoms and suggest treatments depending on what is causing your urinary retention. Some treatments that a doctor might recommend include antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, physical therapy for pelvic floor dysfunction, or a surgical procedure to treat a blocked urethra or an enlarged prostate. 

Your Urology Specialist Can Help

Having difficulty urinating is an uncomfortable and inconvenient experience. While urinary retention remedies are good practice in preventing future health concerns, not being able to urinate is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. 

Managing mild urinary retention symptoms is possible, but it is always best to see a urology specialist for a professional opinion to learn about traditional treatment options. Schedule an appointment with us, or visit your local emergency room, if you start showing symptoms of urinary retention. 

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This content was originally published in March 2019 and was refreshed in January 2021.