What is urinary retention?

Urinary Retention
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Urinary retention: Overview

Urinary retention means that urine is retained, or held, in your bladder and you can't urinate. It is often caused by a blockage of the urinary tract from an enlarged prostate. It can also be caused by an infection, nerve damage, or constipation. Or it may be a side effect of a medicine.

The doctor may have drained the urine from your bladder. If you still have problems passing urine, your doctor may put a catheter in your bladder before you go home. This is used to empty your bladder until the problem, if found, can be fixed. You will be told when to come back to have the catheter removed. If the problem isn't fixed, you may need to learn intermittent self-catheterization at home.

The doctor has checked you closely. But problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

How can you care for yourself when you have urinary retention?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Check with your doctor before you use any over-the-counter medicines. Many cold and allergy medicines, for example, can make this problem worse. Make sure your doctor knows all of the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take.
  • Drink fluids in small amounts throughout the day. Do not drink a lot at bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • If you have been given a catheter, or if one is already in place, follow the instructions you were given. Always wash your hands before and after you handle the catheter.

Urinary retention: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You cannot urinate at all, or it is getting harder to urinate.
  • You have a catheter but urine isn't coming out.
  • You have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These may include:
    • Pain or burning when you urinate.
    • A frequent need to urinate without being able to pass much urine.
    • Pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
    • Blood in your urine.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any problems with your catheter.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.