If you’re not dehydrated and generally healthy, you’ll urinate several times a day. But this seemingly routine act of urine excretion can become an “inability to let go” issue known as urinary retention.
Urinary retention means you are unable to urinate when the urge hits or your bladder doesn’t empty completely when you do go. And this inability is classified as either acute or chronic.
Acute urine retention comes on suddenly and despite a powerful urge nothing comes out. When urine is fully retained it causes symptoms of severe lower abdominal pain and a distended abdomen. With acute urinary retention, prompt health care assistance is needed to empty your bladder.
Chronic urinary retention means you’ll likely be able to urinate some, but may have trouble getting the act started or leave some behind in your bladder. In this bladder problem case, your symptoms might involve mild pain, frequent urination and a residual urge to urinate.
The two most common overall causes of urine retention are a blocked urethra or a nervous system disruption somewhere between your brain and urinary tract.
One common cause of a blocked urethra for men is a health issue with their prostate, which can clamp off urine flow. These and other causes for urethra related retention include:
- kidney stones
- bladder stones
- prostate cancer
- gynecological surgery
- benign prostatic hyperplasi
- scar tissue ~ penis trauma, chronic UTIs
- UT infection causing inflammation & swelling
- certain drugs causing urethra to narrow ~ ipratropium bromide, albuterol, epinephrine
Your urinary retention, both acute and chronic, could be caused by nerve damage or disruption as the result of:
- brain injury
- pelvic injury
- brain infection
- vaginal childbirth
- spinal cord injury
- multiple sclerosis
- spinal cord infection
- heavy metal poisoning
- anesthesia causing after surgery retention
Also, certain drugs taken to combat overactive signaling may cause an inability to urinate, such as those used to treat allergies, congestion, stomach cramps, muscle spasms, anxiety, depression, incontinence and overactive bladder . Some classes of drugs with this side effect are:
Some of the not so common causes of a urine retention problem are:
- cystocele, rectocele
- alcohol consumption
- prolonged inactivity, bed rest
- extended exposure to cold temperatures
- routinely delaying urination despite an urge
First step for treating urine retention is assisting bladder emptying by using a catheter. With an acute case of urinary retention, this draining treatment should happen the same day of your symptoms to relieve full bladder distress and to void a potential kidney complication.
Other forms of treatment for acute and chronic urinary retention focus on the cause of your inability to urinate. For instance, simply stop taking a drug could get your urine flowing again.
Without treatment, chronic urine retention may allow bacteria to grow, causing infections in your urinary tract. Acute urinary retention can cause urine to overflow back into your kidneys, causing permanent kidney damage complication.
Both acute and chronic urinary retention can lead to kidney disease or failure, that may require dialysis or a transplant just to keep you alive. So, always share your “can’t pee” symptom with your health care provider.