The Symptoms and Causes of Urinary Retention
Your Health & Wellbeing

The Symptoms and Causes of Urinary Retention

by Gary Sattin on Oct 03, 2022

Struggling with bladder control problems is a normal part of life that many people choose to keep secret because they don’t understand the symptoms and causes of urinary retention. If you’ve been wearing a protective undergarment due to bladder leakage or because you aren’t confident that you’re going to make it to the toilet, it might be time to seek medical attention.

Many people avoid seeking treatment for this common condition out of embarrassment, but problems with going to the bathroom can affect anyone at any time in their life. Medications, pregnancy, injuries, diseases, and a smorgasbord of complications can cause urinary retention. If you feel like your bladder is never empty or like you always have the urge to urinate, you may be retaining urine.

If you think you’re struggling with bladder control problems, you don’t have to live with this uncomfortable condition. Treatments for incontinence are available and may be simpler than you think. Read on to find out if you might have urinary retention. Discover what could be causing it and how your bladder control issues can be treated by a medical professional.

What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Retention?

If you’re experiencing urinary retention, you’re probably well-acquainted with the symptoms. There are two categories of urinary retention. The most severe is acute, which comes on suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. Chronic is long-term and is more difficult to diagnose.

Acute Urinary Retention

Acute urinary retention is a medical emergency. You might experience an acute form of this condition due to a change in medications or other serious health condition. See a doctor immediately if you have any of the follow symptoms:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Severe pain in your lower abdomen
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Swelling in lower abdomen
  • Fever or chills

Chronic Urinary Retention

Sometimes showing few or no symptoms, chronic urinary retention can be caused by an overactive or underactive bladder. If you have an underactive bladder, it means your muscles are not strong enough to make the contractions needed for urination. People with overactive bladders experience frequent urination. In both cases, you may have a difficult time emptying your bladder when using the toilet.

Chronic urinary retention develops over a period of time—often months or years. While it can be difficult to detect, catching the problem early will improve your quality of life. Be proactive by knowing the symptoms:

  • Difficulty with beginning to urinate
  • Slow urine stream
  • Feeling the need to urinate after using the toilet
  • Bladder leakage
  • Straining to urinate

What Are the Causes of Urinary Retention?

Urinary Retention Caused By Blockage

One of the most common reasons for urinary retention is a blockage in the urethra or urinary track. In men, the blockage may be caused by an enlarged prostrate constricting the urethra while pelvic prolapse can lead to urinary retention in women. Possible causes of a blockage in the bladder or urinary track include:

  • Constipation
  • Urinary track stones
  • Pelvic masses such as tumors, clots, and fibroids
  • Trauma to the pelvis or urethra
  • Scar tissue on your bladder

Urinary Retention Caused By Infection

Your urethra could be blocked or made narrow by swelling from an infection. The swelling presses on the urethra, causing it to close. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may cause acute urinary retention. Further, prostatitis—or prostate infection— can also block the flow of urine.

Urinary Retention Caused By Nerve Damage

Your nervous system aids in all kinds of bodily functions—including urination. If you have a disconnect in your system of nerves, you might not urinate properly. People who have had catheters are at an increased risk of urinary retention because catheters can cause nerve damage. Urinary retention can also be caused by nerve damage from:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Trauma to the spine or pelvis
  • Vaginal childbirth
  • Herniated disk
  • Tumors on the spinal cord

Medications That Cause Urinary Retention

If you’re taking medications and think you’re experiencing chronic urinary retention, check with your doctor. It may be a side effect of your medication. Certain prescriptions can cause issues with bladder control. Your doctor may need to adjust the dose you are taking or find an option that works better for your lifestyle. Always check the list of side effects before beginning a new medication. Pharmaceuticals that may cause urinary retention include:

  • Opiates
  • Antihistamines
  • Antispasmodics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Hormonal agents
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anticholinergics

Ways To Treat Urinary Retention

Seek treatment for urinary retention at the first sign of any bladder control problems. A seemingly small issue can quickly snowball into a chronic problem. If your issue is acute—meaning you can hardly urinate at all—you should see a doctor immediately as the issue could be life-threatening.

What Happens During Urinary Retention Treatment

When you seek treatment, a doctor may place a catheter in your urethra to drain the urine, especially if your problem is acute. For chronic urinary retention, a healthcare professional will attempt to find the root cause of the issue by performing a series of tests which may include a physical exam, CT scans, blood tests, and a cystoscopy.

How Doctors Treat Urinary Retention

Depending on the root cause of your urinary retention, your doctor will make recommendations for treatment. If you’re unable to urinate due to an enlarged prostate or other blockage, surgery might be the best option. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medications to control the size of your prostrate. Your doctor may also prescribe medications for UTIs, STIs, and other infections or suggest a change in medications if your prescriptions are causing your incontinence. For urinary retention caused by pelvic floor issues, your doctor may recommend physical therapy.

Treating urinary retention can be simple but it’s not always a quick fix. You may still need to wear a protective undergarment while you figure out the root cause of your bladder control problems. Maintain your confidence in the world with TotalDry protective products. From light pads to full coverage leak-proof underwear, our line of adult incontinence products is high-quality and reliable. With a better understanding of the symptoms and causes of urinary retention, you can build the confidence to talk to a loved one or care provider about incontinence.


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