Acute Urinary Retention: Male

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Acute urinary retention is a condition in which a person is unable to pass urine or can only pass a little urine. This condition can happen suddenly and last for a short time. If left untreated, it can become long-term (chronic) and result in kidney damage or other serious complications.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • Obstruction or narrowing of the tube that drains the bladder (urethra). This may be caused by surgery, problems with nearby organs, or injury to the bladder or urethra.

  • Problems with the nerves in the bladder.

  • Tumors in the area of the pelvis, bladder, or urethra.

  • Certain medicines.

  • Bladder or urinary tract infection.

  • Constipation.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in older men. As men age, their prostate may become larger and may start to press or squeeze on the bladder or the urethra. Other chronic health conditions can increase the risk of acute urinary retention. These include:

  • Diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

  • Spinal cord injuries.

  • Diabetes.

  • Degenerative cognitive conditions, such as delirium or dementia.

  • Psychological conditions. A man may hold his urine due to trauma or because he does not want to use the bathroom.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Trouble urinating.

  • Pain in the lower abdomen.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on a physical exam and your medical history. You may also have other tests, including:

  • An ultrasound of the bladder or kidneys or both.

  • Blood tests.

  • A urine analysis.

  • Additional tests may be needed, such as a CT scan, MRI, and kidney or bladder function tests.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition may include:

  • Medicines.

  • Placing a thin, sterile tube (catheter) into the bladder to drain urine out of the body. This is called an indwelling urinary catheter. After it is inserted, the catheter is held in place with a small balloon that is filled with sterile water. Urine drains from the catheter into a collection bag outside of the body.

  • Behavioral therapy.

  • Treatment for other conditions.

If needed, you may be treated in the hospital for kidney function problems or to manage other complications.

Follow these instructions at home:

Medicines

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. Avoid certain medicines, such as decongestants, antihistamines, and some prescription medicines. Do not take any medicine unless your health care provider approves.

  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, take it as told by your health care provider. Do not stop using the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.

General instructions

  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco. These products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.

  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.

  • If you have an indwelling urinary catheter, follow the instructions from your health care provider.

  • Monitor any changes in your symptoms. Tell your health care provider about any changes.

  • If instructed, monitor your blood pressure at home. Report changes as told by your health care provider.

  • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have uncomfortable bladder contractions that you cannot control (spasms).

  • You leak urine with the spasms.

Get help right away if:

  • You have chills or a fever.

  • You have blood in your urine.

  • You have a catheter and the following happens:

    • Your catheter stops draining urine.

    • Your catheter falls out.

Summary

  • Acute urinary retention is a condition in which a person is unable to pass urine or can only pass a little urine. If left untreated, this condition can result in kidney damage or other serious complications.

  • An enlarged prostate may cause this condition. As men age, their prostate gland may become larger and may press or squeeze on the bladder or the urethra.

  • Treatment for this condition may include medicines and placement of an indwelling urinary catheter.

  • Monitor any changes in your symptoms. Tell your health care provider about any changes.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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