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What is Urinary Retention?

Urinary retention refers to a condition in which an individual is unable to urinate satisfactorily. Individuals may feel the urge to pass urine and are aware that the bladder is full but are unable relieve themselves completely.

Acute urinary retention can occur suddenly and will produce painful symptoms that need immediate medical attention. However, chronic urinary retention develops over a period of years and may not produce painful symptoms, while the person gradually experiences a reducing ability to empty the bladder totally.

What are the main signs and symptoms?

The symptoms of acute urinary retention can be as follows:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Feeling the urge to pass urine
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Bloating in the lower abdomen

The symptoms of chronic urinary retention include:

  • Difficulty in letting out urine
  • Weak urine stream
  • Feeling the urge to urinate even after having done so
  • Mild discomfort in the abdomen after urinating

What are the main causes?

The causes of urinary retention are multiple and are spread over a wide spectrum of underlying causes:

How is it diagnosed and treated?

To diagnose acute or chronic urinary retention, the doctor may conduct

  • A physical exam
  • Cystoscopy
  • CT scans
  • Urodynamic tests (tests which reveal how well the bladder and urethra store and release urine)
  • Electromyography (to measure and asses the nerve activity in the affected area)

The doctor can treat urinary retention by the following methods:

  • Urethral dilation (widening the urethral opening to encourage urine removal)
  • Urethral stent placement (insertion of an artificial tube to widen the urethra)
  • Prostrate medications (medications to stop the growth of the prostate to relieve the symptoms of urinary retention)
  • Bladder drainage (emptying the bladder using a tube)
  • Surgery
  1. Medicines for Urinary Retention


  1. American Academy of Family Physicians [Internet]. Leawood (KS); Urinary Retention in Adults: Diagnosis and Initial Management
  2. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Urine and Urination
  3. Healthdirect Australia. Urinary retention. Australian government: Department of Health
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [internet]: US Department of Health and Human Services; Urinary Retention
  5. Clinical Trials. Prevention of Post-operative Urinary Retention (POUR). U.S. National Library of Medicine. [internet].
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