Urinary retention is an inability to fully empty the bladder. The condition can be either acute (short- term) or chronic (long-term).
Acute urinary retention usually happens suddenly and lasts only a short period of time. Sufferers of acute urinary retention will find they can’t urinate at all, even though their bladder is full. This form of urinary retention is not only painful, it can also be potentially life-threatening. Acute urinary retention will require immediate treatment.
Chronic urinary retention is usually a long-term condition. Sufferers of chronic urinary retention are able to urinate but aren’t able to fully empty their bladder. Often sufferers aren’t even aware they have the condition until other related problems develop, such as urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) or urinary tract infections (a bacterial infection of the urinary tract).
Urinary retention can have several causes, including:
- Obstruction of the urethra
- Weakened bladder muscles
- Nerve problems
- Certain medications
Obstruction of the urethra can cause urinary retention as the normal flow of urine is blocked from exiting the body. This blockage can be the result of constipation, urinary tract stones, urethral stricture, cystocele, rectocele and certain tumours and cancers.
As we age, our bladder muscles naturally become weaker. This weakening means that the muscles in the bladder may not be able to contract strongly enough to fully empty the bladder’s contents, which will result in urinary retention Urinary retention can also result from a nerve problem, specifically the nerves responsible for controlling the bladder and sphincters. If these nerves become damaged, the brain may not receive the signal telling it that the bladder is full. Alternatively, the muscles that contract to expel urine may not receive the signal to push, or the sphincters may not be signalled to relax. People of all ages can suffer nerve damage, which potentially could interfere with bladder function. The most common causes include:
- Vaginal childbirth
- Spinal cord or brain infections
- Pelvic trauma
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Multiple sclerosis
Various classes of medicine can cause urinary retention by interfering with nerve signals sent to the bladder and prostate. The most common medicines that can potentially cause urinary retention include; antihistamines, anticholinergics/antispasmodics, tricyclic antidepressants and decongestants.