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Urinary Retention: Why Can’t I Pee Properly?

  • 23 Aug 2023
  • 3 mins

What is Urinary Retention?

Urinary retention is a condition where a person is unable to empty all the urine in their bladder. Urinary retention can be acute where the condition happens suddenly, or chronic where the condition slowly developed over time.

If you suffer from urinary retention, you may feel like your bladder is still full after urinating. This is due to the bladder’s inability to entirely empty itself.

Both men and women can experience urinary retention, although the condition is more common in men. The elderly are also at a higher risk of developing urinary retention, with men above the age of 60 being at a higher risk than those in other demographics.

What Causes Urinary Retention?

Urinary retention could happen due to an obstruction or narrowing of the bladder, which prevents the proper flow of urine. This obstruction may be due to a swelling of the urethra, an object blocking the urethra, a tumor that’s constricting the urinary tract or a blood clot.

Certain medication, such as antihistamines and antidepressants, can also affect bladder control. As passing urine is a process that involves several muscles, nerve damage due to conditions such as stroke, diabetes, or trauma to the spine or pelvis may also potentially cause urinary retention.

Acute vs Chronic Urinary Retention?

Urinary retention can be divided into acute urinary retention and chronic urinary retention.

If urinary retention appears suddenly, it is deemed as acute and can be dangerous. You may feel like you need to urinate, however you are unable to do so. Extreme pain or discomfort may be experienced if you are unable to empty your bladder. Do seek immediate medical attention should you find yourself experiencing these symptoms.

Chronic urinary retention happens when you are able to urinate but are unable to fully empty your bladder. Urine accumulated in the bladder can result in the release of toxins that would typically be released in the body. Over time, the condition can result in complications hence it is important to see the doctor when you are starting to exhibit symptoms of chronic urinary retention such as constantly feeling the urge to urinate urgently, urinating a few times during the night, some leakage from your bladder during the day and discomfort in your hip area.

What are Treatment Options? 

If you are experiencing urinary retention, it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause and get treatment. Treatment for urinary retention will vary depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. In some cases, treatment may involve medications, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

There are a number of lifestyle changes that can help to prevent or improve urinary retention, including cutting down on alcohol and caffeine consumption, emptying your bladder regularly, and not straining your body when urinating.

Medications can also be used to relax the muscles of the bladder and prostate, making it easier to urinate. Some common medications used for urinary retention include alpha-blockers, medications that relax the muscles of the prostate and bladder neck, making it easier to urinate, and anticholinergics, medications that reduce the activity of the bladder muscles, making it easier to control urination.

Surgery may be an option for people with urinary retention that does not improve with medications or lifestyle changes. There are a number of different surgical procedures that can be used to treat urinary retention including prostatectomy, the removal of the prostate gland, urethral dilation, the widening of the urethra for easier urine flow, and bladder augmentation, a procedure which involves increasing the size of the bladder.

Contributed by

Dr. Jay Lim
Surgi-TEN Specialists
Farrer Park Hospital