Merck Manual

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Urinary Retention

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2019| Content last modified May 2019
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What is urinary retention?

Urinary retention is when:

  • You can't urinate (pee) at all or only a little

  • You can urinate but there's still urine in your bladder after you're done

With urinary retention:

  • You may also leak urine and urinate without meaning to (urinary incontinence)

  • Doctors will do an ultrasound after you pee to see how much urine is left in your bladder

  • Doctors may use a catheter (thin flexible tube) to empty your bladder

What causes urinary retention?

Causes include:

Urinary retention is more common in men because growth of the prostate can block the flow of urine.

What are the symptoms of urinary retention?

If you can't empty your bladder completely:

  • Trouble starting urination

  • A weak urine stream

  • A sense that your bladder hasn't emptied completely

  • Sometimes leaking of urine, urinating at night, or needing to urinate often

If you can't urinate at all:

  • No ability to start urination

  • Pain as your bladder stretches

  • Swelling in your lower belly

How can doctors tell if I have urinary retention?

If you can't pass any urine at all, doctors will know you have urinary retention. If you're able to pass some urine, doctors will do a test to see how much urine stays in your bladder.

  • Doctors will have you urinate as much as you can

  • They’ll either do an ultrasound of your bladder or insert a catheter into your bladder to see if there is any urine left in your bladder

  • If the amount of urine left is more than about half a cup, doctors will know you have urinary retention

Doctors will also do tests:

  • Usually a rectal exam—a doctor feels inside your anus with a finger to see if it’s blocked by stool or, if you're a man, to see if you have an enlarged prostate

  • Urine test

  • Blood tests

How do doctors treat urinary retention?

If you can’t urinate at all, doctors will insert a catheter into your bladder right away to drain the urine. To treat the cause of your urinary retention, doctors may:

  • Have you stop any medicines that may be causing the problem

  • If you’re a man with an enlarged prostate, treat it with surgery or medicines

  • Prescribe medicine to relax the muscles at the opening of your bladder

  • If you have nerve problems, have you put a catheter in your bladder several times a day to drain urine

  • Sometimes, do surgery to pass urine out of your body in a different way

Where can I find more information on urinary retention?

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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