Definition of Urinary Retention

Urinary Retention – the inability to completely empty urine from the bladder with urination. Because urinary retention presents a risk for bacterial urinary tract infection (uti) or nephritis (infection of the kidneys), it is important to find and treat its cause.


The most common cause is an obstruction that blocks or narrows the urethra such as a bladder stone (urolithiasis), urethritis or urethral stricturebenign prostatic hyperplasia (bph) or prostatitis in men, cystocele (sagging of the bladder) or uterine prolapse in women, and rarely a tumor.

As well, stroke, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury (tbi) can damage the nerves that control urination. The diagnostic path may include urinalysis and cystoscopy or ultrasound to evaluate the urethra and bladder.


Treatment targets the underlying cause and may include bladder catheterization to empty the bladder of urine, either as an emergency procedure for acute urinary retention or on a routine basis for chronic urinary retention. Often, the underlying cause is treatable and the urinary retention resolves.


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