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About Urinary Retention

Most people feel uncomfortable discussing bladder control problems with their friends, family and doctor. But if you’re unable to empty your bladder, you’re not alone.

Definition

Urinary retention is defined as the inability to completely or partially empty the bladder.1 Suffering from urinary retention means you may be unable to start urination, or if you are able to start, you can’t fully empty your bladder.

Symptoms

Symptoms of urinary retention may include:

  • Difficulty starting to urinate
  • Difficulty fully emptying the bladder
  • Weak dribble or stream of urine
  • Loss of small amounts of urine during the day
  • Inability to feel when bladder is full
  • Increased abdominal pressure
  • Lack of urge to urinate
  • Strained efforts to push urine out of the bladder
  • Frequent urination
  • Nocturia (waking up more than two times at night to urinate)

Causes

There are two general types of urinary retention: obstructive and non-obstructive. If there is an obstruction (for example, kidney stones), urine cannot flow freely through the urinary track. Non-obstructive causes include a weak bladder muscle and nerve problems that interfere with signals between the brain and the bladder. If the nerves aren’t working properly, the brain may not get the message that the bladder is full.

Some of the most common causes of non-obstructive urinary retention are:

  • Stroke
  • Vaginal childbirth
  • Pelvic injury or trauma
  • Impaired muscle or nerve function due to medication or anesthesia
  • Accidents that injure the brain or spinal cord

Obstructive retention may result from:

  • Cancer
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Enlarged prostate (BPH) in men

Diagnosis

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and how they affect your daily life. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms.

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Reference

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Reference Collection

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 5 Dec 2013

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