Urinary Retention

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Acute and Chronic Urinary Complications

Urinary retention is the inability to completely empty the bladder and comes in the form of acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). Symptoms of urinary retention can be highly uncomfortable, which is why many individuals seek treatment. To begin your order for urinary retention online, click below to start your free consultation.

What is urinary retention?

Urinary retention is when you are unable to empty your bladder completely. This condition can be acute or chronic. The bladder, which is made of muscle, stores the urine and expands as it fills up.

  • Acute urinary retention occurs suddenly, but does not last long. However, it causes great discomfort and pain because you are unable to urinate at all, even if you have a full bladder. Acute urinary retention requires immediate medical attention, as extreme cases can be life threatening.
  • Chronic urinary retention is a long-lasting medical condition. Individuals with this condition can urinate, however they cannot empty all the urine from their bladders. This can lead to infection and damage to the bladder. In many cases, those who have chronic urinary retention are not aware of it until they experience another urinary issue. For instance, urinary incontinence or a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Urinary retention occurs when there is a disruption to the urinary (renal) system. Our kidneys produce urine constantly, which passes down tubes (ureters) to the bladder. The amount of urine created depends on how much we eat, drink and sweat.

Urine is released from the body by the urethra, which is usually kept closed and is supported by the pelvic floor muscles that are below the bladder.

Complex nerve messages tell these parts of the body how to react when the bladder is full. You pass urine by contracting the bladder muscles while simultaneously relaxing the urethra and pelvic floor muscles.

If you experience urinary retention, part of that process is interrupted which results in the inability to urinate.

Who is most likely to be affected by urinary retention?

Urinary retention becomes much more common with age. For men between 40 and 83, there are up to 6.8 incidences in every 1,000 men. For men in their 70s, it rises to 100 incidences per 1,000 and for men in their 80s it grows to 300 incidences per 1,000 men.

The condition is much less common in women, although it's not a rare condition for them to experience. There has been little research into urinary retention in women due to it primarily being related to the male prostate.

Many people experience urinary retention following surgery. However, this is considered normal and does not usually cause long-term problems. Normal bladder function should resume after the anaesthetic wears off.

What causes urinary retention?

There are several causes of urinary retention. Some are unique to men, but others can affect both sexes.

Obstruction of the urethra is the most common cause of urinary retention. This means there's something blocking the normal flow of urine. Conditions such as these can cause an obstruction:

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – enlarges the prostate gland
  • Urethral stricture
  • Urinary tract stones
  • Cystocele
  • Rectocele
  • Constipation
  • Certain tumours and cancers

Nerve problems can also cause urinary retention as nerves control the bladder, sphincters and the entire renal system.

If something blocks or interferes with the nerve signals between the brain, bladder and sphincters, the brain may not get the signal the bladder is full and therefore not instruct the urethra to relax and the bladder to contract.

Some medications can also affect nerve function, particularly for the bladder and prostate. Medications include but are not limited to certain antihistamines, anticholinergics and antispasmodics that treat stomach cramps, muscle spasms and urinary incontinence, as well as tricyclic antidepressants.

Weakened bladder muscles may not contract strongly or for long enough to empty the bladder, so are another cause of urinary retention. This weakening sometimes occurs with ageing, so is why the condition is prevalent among older generations.

What are the symptoms of urinary retention?

If you experience any symptoms of acute urinary retention, you should seek medical attention immediately.

They include: the inability to urinate despite the painful and urgent need to pass urine; severe discomfort and pain in the lower abdomen; and, bloating in the same area.

Chronic urinary retention usually presents as a much more frequent need to urinate. You may even feel the need to urinate after just finishing urinating.

You may also experience problems beginning a urine stream despite the urgent need to urinate. Mild and constant discomfort in the lower abdomen and urinary tract is another symptom of chronic urinary retention.

How to treat urinary retention

It's best to try to prevent urinary retention by treating its potential causes. Those with BPH should try medications to reduce the size of the prostate gland. They should also avoid medications known to cause urinary retention including over-the-counter cold and allergy medications that include decongestants.

Women concerned about urinary retention could try pelvic floor strengthening exercises, while dietary and lifestyle changes could prevent constipation that causes urinary retention.

Chronic urinary retention in men can be treated with over-the-counter medication if an enlarged prostate gland is the cause.

Oral capsules available over the counter will relax the muscles surrounding the urethra. In turn this relieves pressure and allows urine to flow out of the body more freely.

It is important to not crush, chew or open these capsules. Typically, you will only need to take one capsule per day.

This medication is fast-acting and often sees results just hours after consumption. It works well if taken after food as this slows the absorption into the intestine.

Acute urinary retention should be treated immediately by a healthcare professional. They will diagnose your condition through a physical exam and perhaps by a test known as a postvoid residual measurement.

They may also try to determine the cause through a cystoscopy, CT scan, urodynamic tests and electromyography.

They are then likely to treat you with one of these options:

  • Bladder drainage
  • Urethral dilation
  • Urethral stents
  • Prostate medications
  • Surgery

The outcome of treatment depends on the underlying cause of your urinary retention and whether it has damaged your kidneys.

Sometimes it resolves without any long-term problems. For others, it can be cured after the underlying cause is treated. However, occasionally it cannot be cured, and a long-term catheter is needed to relieve the symptoms.

There are several complications that may occur due to urinary retention. You should be aware of these as they may need to be treated separately:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Bladder damage or infection
  • Kidney damage
  • Urinary incontinence

How to buy urinary retention medications online

Buying urinary retention medication online can limit the hassle of buying in-person. To do so, complete a quick consultation to be reviewed by our partner doctor. Once you've completed your initial consultation and it's been approved, you can use this consult for future purchases.