What is urinary retention and what are the treatments?

Have you ever felt the urge to pee, but when you went to the bathroom, just a little urine came out and it looked like your bladder was still full?

Or worse, despite the urge to urinate, you just couldn’t do it?

Be careful, you may be suffering from urinary retention. Despite being more common in the male population, the problem affects many women of any age, causing pain and discomfort.

In today’s text I will explain a little about urinary retention, the main symptoms and how you can treat this disease.

In today’s text we will cover the following topics:

  • What is urinary retention?
  • Types
  • Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Tips
  • Take care of your health

What is urinary retention?

Urinary retention is the inability to urinate or to empty your bladder completely.

It may happen because the patient is unable to start urinating or, if he starts, he is unable to completely empty his bladder.

People can retain urine because the bladder muscle contractions are impaired, the bladder opening is blocked, or there is a lack of coordination between contraction and relaxation of the muscle that closes the bladder opening.

Urinary retention is more common among men because the enlarged prostate, due to urological problems, can cause the narrowing of the channel that eliminates urine from the body (urethra).

In general, the patient is unable to completely empty the bladder. In such cases, the bladder slowly expands without causing pain.

However, the patient may have difficulty initiating urination, a weak urine flow, or a feeling that the bladder is not completely empty. As the bladder is relatively full, urine may flow (overflow incontinence), need to urinate at night (nocturia) or frequent urination. As the retained urine can be a breeding ground for bacteria, urinary tract infections can occur.


There are two types of urinary retention: acute or chronic.

See the characteristics of both:

  • Acute – In acute retention the person is unable to urinate, even with a full bladder.
  • Chronic – In this case, people may be able to urinate, but have trouble emptying their bladder completely. This results in residual urine in the bladder, due to the inability to eliminate the fluid, which favors the appearance of urinary infections and the formation of stones.


The most common signs and symptoms of urinary retention are difficulty in starting to urinate and emptying the bladder entirely, weak urine flow, dripping at the end of urination, involuntary loss of small amounts of urine, inability to feel when the bladder is full, increased abdominal pressure, lack of desire to urinate, effort to force urine out of the bladder, frequent urination and waking up more than twice at night to urinate.

Urinary retention can be secondary to diseases or conditions such as stroke, vaginal delivery, pelvic injury or trauma, medication or anesthesia, brain or spinal cord injury, intermittent bladder catheterization or, in men, benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged volume) of the prostate).

In acute urinary retention there is a very painful dilation of the bladder.

In chronic retention, both obstructive and irritative symptoms occur.


Urinary retention can be caused by obstruction of the urinary tract or by nervous problems that interfere with signals between the brain and the bladder. Here are some common causes:

  • Nerve diseases or spinal cord injuries,
  • Prostate enlargement,
  • Infections,
  • Pelvic surgeries,
  • Medications (anticholinergics, such as antihistamines and some antidepressants),
  • Bladder Stone,
  • Cystocele (the bladder falls into the vagina),
  • Rectocele (the rectum falls into the vagina),
  • Accumulation of hard stools that, occupying the rectum, puts pressure on the urethra (fecaloma),
  • Urethral stricture (narrowing of the urethra),
  • People with diabetes, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.

There is also chronic idiopathic urinary retention.

This type of urinary retention, more common in women, is due to excessive activity of the external sphincter of the urethra, which inhibits contraction of the bladder.


The doctor tries to determine how much urine remains in the bladder after the patient has urinated as much as possible.

To do this, when he has finished urinating, he inserts a probe into the bladder to measure the extracted urine or does an ultrasound of the bladder to measure the amount of urine present.

The amount of urine left after urinating is called the post-exit residual volume. If this volume exceeds half the cup (a little more in the elderly), there is urinary retention.

A physical exam is performed, which usually includes a digital rectal exam.

In men, digital rectal examination can determine whether the prostate is abnormally sized. In both men and women, digital rectal examination helps to identify fecal impaction.

A urine sample can be taken and tested to determine if an infection exists. To determine the cause of urinary retention, it may be necessary to perform a blood test and diagnostic imaging tests.


There are several treatment options for urinary retention, so it is best to look for the one that will work best for you.


A procedure in which a catheter long enough to empty the bladder is inserted into the urinary tract and then removed at regular intervals.

Behavioral techniques

Some people can reduce the symptoms of urinary retention with changes in their lifestyle, fluids and dietary modifications, Kegel exercises or other types of physical therapy.


Your doctor may prescribe medications to help control urinary retention symptoms.

Some of these drugs help the bladder muscle to contract better and can improve your ability to urinate.


Neuromodulation sends light electrical pulses to the nerves that control the bladder and muscles related to urination. This helps communication between the brain and the nerves, so that the bladder can function properly.

Neuromodulation is a reversible treatment that can be stopped at any time by turning off or removing the device.

Neuromodulation is not indicated for obstructive urinary retention. Not all forms of non-obstructive urinary retention can be treated with neuromodulation therapy.


Urinary retention cannot always be prevented, but some habits can help prevent infections that put your bladder at risk.

Here are a few:

  • Drink plenty of water (2 liters minimum) and fluids during the day
  • Don’t hold your urine and go to the bathroom every time you feel like it
  • Maintain good intimate hygiene and, after doing your needs, always clean the genital area from front to back (and never the other way around)
  • Follow a balanced and healthy diet that keeps your immune system strengthened.
  • Practice pompoir exercises , as exercising the pelvic floor muscles helps prevent disease.

Download my Pompoarism ebook and learn the exercise step by step today.

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Take care of your health

Although not a potentially serious disease, urinary retention is a problem that causes pain and discomfort.

If any symptoms appear or if you notice any change in the color or odor of the urine, see a doctor immediately.

The treatment is relatively simple and in a short time you will be free from the problem. Don’t play with your health, take good care of your body and pay attention to the signals it sends.


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