What Causes Urinary Retention, and How Is It Treated?

When you have urinary retention, your bladder may still feel full after you urinate. This is because it’s not emptying all the way. You may feel like you still need to go urgently, even after urinating a large volume of liquid.

When this starts Trusted Source happening suddenly and you can’t urinate, it’s called acute urinary retention. If it lasts a long time and you can still urinate but not completely empty your bladder, it’s known as chronic urinary retention.

People can experience urinary retention whether they have a penis or a vagina. However, it’s more common in people with a penis. About 4.5 to 6.8 out of every 1,000 people with a penis are diagnosed with urinary retention each year.

Urinary retention is especially common in people at older ages. After 80 years of age, people with a penis experience a much higher risk.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of both acute and chronic urinary retention, what can cause it, and how it’s treated.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may differ slightly for acute and chronic urinary retention.


Urinary retention that appears suddenly can be Trusted Source dangerous. You may feel like you need to urinate badly, but nothing comes out when you try to urinate.

You can feel extreme pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen if you’re not able to urinate for a long time. This is because your bladder continues to expand and put pressure on the surrounding nerves and tissues.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience acute urinary retention.


Chronic urinary retention happens when you can urinate but all the urine does not drain from your bladder. Over time, urine leftover in the bladder may build up and expose you to toxins that your body would typically release.

Over time, this chronic condition can also cause complications. It’s important to see a doctor if you start to notice persistent symptoms of chronic urinary retention, such as Trusted Source:

You urinate more than eight times a day and often feel like you have to urinate urgently.

You have some trouble starting to urinate before urine comes out.

When you urinate, the stream of urine is erratic, weak, or stops before you feel finished.

Even after you urinate, you have the urge to go again shortly after.

You regularly urinate a few times during the night.

You have some leakage from your bladder during the day.

You feel like you have the sudden urge to urinate, then feel like you can’t stop peeing once you start. This is known as urge incontinence.

You’re not always sure if your bladder is full and if you actually have to urinate.

You often feel some discomfort in your hip area or like you still have some fluid in your bladder.

What causes it?

First, it’s helpful to know what’s down there and what exactly happens when you urinate.

Your bladder holds your urine and is part of your lower urinary tract, which also includes Trusted Source your:

Urethra. This is the tube that transports urine from your bladder to outside your body.

Internal sphincter. The internal sphincter is located near where the bladder and urethra meet (known as the bladder outlet). This keeps urine from releasing into the urethra too soon. You can’t control this sphincter.

External sphincter. The external sphincter is located in the urethra to keep urine in and let urine out when you urinate. It opens and closes to control when urine can leave the bladder. You can control this sphincter — it’s the one you use when you try to “hold it.”

Prostate (only in people with a penis). This is a gland that stores some of the fluids in semen. It’s not part of your urination function, but it’s close to the rest of your urinary tract.

Now, here’s what happens when you urinate:

Bladder muscles push urine from the bladder into the urethra.

Nerves signal for your sphincter to let urine be released from your body.

The urine stream stops and starts when you control your external sphincter.

Your urge to urinate goes away once your nerves sense that the bladder is emptied and no longer putting pressure on nearby tissues.

There are several possible causes of urinary retention based on issues that can affect any of these parts or processes.


An obstruction happens when something gets in the way of urine leaving your bladder.

If something suddenly gets in the way and blocks your urine, this causes acute urinary retention. If the obstruction happens slowly over time and still allows some urine out, this results in chronic urinary retention.

Some possible causes of obstructions include Trusted Source:

swelling in the urethra

a constriction of the urethra that makes it hard for urine to come out

an object blocking the urethra

being constipated

stones from the kidney or other part of the urinary tract

a tumor or other mass in the gut or hip area that’s constricting the urinary tract

a clot from blood in the urethra


Some medications can result in urinary retention due to muscle weakness or symptoms affecting your internal sphincter. These medications includeTrusted Source:

pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

muscle relaxers

urinary incontinence medications


some antidepressants

medication for Parkinson’s disease

some antipsychotics


opioids (such as morphine)

Source: www.healthline.com


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