Urine Retention

Urinary retention is when the body either can’t pass urine at all or can’t completely emptying the bladder.


There are two quite distinct types of urinary retention:

Acute (meaning severe and sudden on-set) which is typically caused by an obstruction such as a kidney or bladder stone and impedes the passing of any urine at all. It can be very painful, even life-threatening, so immediate medical attention is essential

Chronic (meaning a condition that develops and worsens over time) which often goes unnoticed until it causes other symptoms such as UTIsand/or incontinence. The underlying issue is that the bladder isn’t fully emptying.

Who gets chronic urinary retention and why?

Although anyone can be affected, middle-aged men are most at risk due to enlarged prostates.

In women, a condition called cystocele (where the bladder has shifted, dropped or been pulled out of position – then later by a drooped colon, a condition known as rectocele) is often the cause.

What leads to urinary retention?

An inability to completely empty the blader can be caused by something pressing on, and therefore restricting, the urethra (the tube that transports urine from the bladder outside the body). This could be from an enlarged prostate, tumours, cystocele or rectocele (as described above) and even constipation.

Sometimes the cause isn’t an obstruction but muscle and nerve damage acquired from childbirth, pelvic injury, stroke, nerve disease, impaired function from a medical procedure or anaesthetic.  Neurological conditions, like head or spinal cord injury and dementia, can also contribute as they repress clear messages getting between the bladder and the brain.

What are the symptoms?

As mentioned previously, the onset of chronic urinary retention can go unnoticed until other symptoms arise. These vary from person to person but can include:

  • Urinating 8 or more times a day
  • Waking up more than twice in the night to use the toilet
  • Difficulty starting the flow of urine
  • A weak or interrupted stream
  • Sensing the need to ‘go’ when you’ve just been
  • An urgent need to go, then passing very little urine
  • A sense of discomfort or increased pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Not really knowing when your bladder is full
  • Consciously straining or pushing to fully empty the bladder
  • Urge incontinence – a sudden and urgent need to urinate and not always making it to the toilet in time

If you suspect you’re suffering from urinary retention, see your health care professional. Most practitioners will conduct a physical examination of the lower abdomen, lightly tapping to determine if the bladder is distended. An ultra sound might also be used to see if urine is left after you’ve urinate and approximately how much.

Treatment and management

Your doctor will determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition.

Pelvic floor exercises, particularly for women, may assist in prevention by improving early cases of cystocele.

If you have on-going urge incontinence or other leakage associated with urinary retention, the right TENA product can help you manage it. Specifically designed for the thinner, faster flow of a weak bladder, TENA has an extensive range of products and sizes to suit both men and women.

Did you know?

Up to 1 in 4 people in Australia experience poor bladder control

Squeeze your Pelvic Floor muscles 10 times, for 10 seconds in 10 second intervals, 3 times a day to increase your bladder control

30 minutes of exercise a day can help stimulate bowel movements. Even light walking helps

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