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Urinary Retention in Men

Urination Retention in men is common, especially among older men. Statistics show that 0.45% to 0.68% of men age 40 to 83 get urinary retention. The incidents of urinary retention in men also increases with age. 10% of men get urinary retention in their 70s and 30% of men in their 80s. 

The reason that older men tend to get urinary retention is that their prostates enlarge as a natural part of aging. An enlarged prostate can block the neighboring urethra, causing urinary retention. Sometimes, prostate enlargement is caused by infections or diseases unrelated to age.

Urinary retention can also occur in men as a result of nerve damage, various forms of blockages in the lower urinary tract, weak bladder muscles, and medication. 

This article will cover the common causes of urinary retention in men, as well as the symptoms and treatments. 

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How does an enlarged prostate cause urinary retention?

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that sits below the bladder. It surrounds the part of the urethra that extends out of the bottom of the bladder. When the prostate grows bigger, it constricts the urethra so that urine cannot pass through easily, leading to urinary retention. 

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BPH: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

As men age, their prostates naturally enlarge in what is known as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Men who are 40 and older are more likely to develop it. Half of the men in their 50s have BPH, and so do 90% of men in their 80s. BPH is not cancerous. But an enlarged prostate causes urinary retention, it can lead to urinary tract problems such as UTIs. 

Prostatitis: another prostate-related cause of urinary retention 

Prostatitis is the swelling and inflammation of the prostate. It can also cause urinary retention because the prostate may swell and block the urethra. 

Although both BPH and prostatitis can have symptoms of urinary retention, which includes: 

  • Frequent urge to urinate with low output volume 
  • Discomfort or fullness in the lower abdomen and back
  • Difficulty starting stream; weak and broken stream
  • Feeling like you have not emptied your bladder completely 
  • Having the urge to urinate soon after you’ve finished urination 
  • Inability to detect when the bladder is full
  • Leakage of urine
  • Unable to urinate with a painful, full bladder

If you have suddenly completely lost the ability to urinate, you may be suffering from acute urinary retention and you should seek emergency care. 

The differences between BPH and Prostatitis

Although BPH and prostatitis have similar symptoms, they are also different

  • BPH is not caused by infection or inflammation as prostatitis often is (acute/chronic bacterial prostatitis). 
  • Prostatitis is often painful, causing burning urination, ejaculation, and constant pain in the lower back, pelvis, and groin.
  • BPH is often painful only during urination.
  • Prostatitis can have flu-like symptoms, BPH doesn’t. 
  • BPH is more common in men 50 or above, whereas bacterial prostatitis often affects men below 35. 

Sometimes, prostatitis’s inflammation is not caused by an underlying infection (chronic nonbacterial prostatitis). Sometimes the prostate may not be inflamed at all, but only enlarged. And sometimes prostatitis doesn’t have any symptoms at all (asymptomatic prostatitis). 

Prostate cancer

People with prostate cancer often exhibit symptoms of urinary retention and enlarged prostate.  Other symptoms include: 

  • blood in the urine and seminal fluid
  • Recent onset of erectile dysfunction
  • Swelling in the legs and feet
  • Pain in the bones (shoulder, back, hips, thighs, etc)
  • unexplained weight loss
  • constant fatigue

Surgery and radiotherapy that treat prostate cancer can also lead to urinary retention. 

Since UR can have a variety of underlying causes, it is important to get a medical diagnosis from a doctor. 

On a side note, prostate enlargement is a problem unique to men since women don’t have prostate glands (they have the skene gland which functions similarly). Here’s an article that can help you understand urinary retention in women.

UTI: urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection can cause swelling that constricts urine flow. Some symptoms of UTI include: 

  • Painful, burning urination
  • Cloudy, foul-smelling, and bloody urine
  • Frequent urge to urinate with little volume
  • Fever, chills, and nausea 
  • Pain in the pelvic area

UTI in men is rare compared to women. However, if a man is using a urinary catheter to treat UR, then he is at risk for CAUTI (catheter-associated urinary tract infection).   

CAUTI is often caused by catheter contamination. To avoid CAUTI, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before catheterization. Using no-touch catheters is also a good idea. A no-touch catheter doesn’t require you to touch the exposed catheter during insertion, and study has shown that it reduces catheter contamination. 

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Neurological cause of urinary retention 

For urine to void, the bladder’s detrusor muscle needs to contract and squeeze urine out, and then the urethral sphincter needs to relax to let the urine pass through. If the nerves that control either of these actions are damaged, urinary retention may occur. The condition is known as neurogenic bladder

Men of all ages can have neurogenic bladder syndrome. The cause of neurogenic bladder is often related to another disease that has damaged the person’s nerves, such as spinal cord injuries (SCI), stroke, diabetes, birth defects, etc. 

Blockages in the urinary tract

Any physical blockages in the urinary tract can lead to urinary retention. For example, when the bladder or the urethra swells from infections or inflammations, the swelling blocks the urine’s release.

A blockage can also grow inside the bladder, such as in the case of bladder stones and bladder tumors. 

The blockage can occur at the bladder neck, where the bladder meets the urethra. This is known as bladder outlet obstruction (BOO) and an enlarged prostate is an example of it.

When the urethra has been cut, scraped, or otherwise traumatized, scar tissues can form and obstruct the urethra. This is known as urethral stricture

Old age and medication

As people age, their bladders age with them. The bladder’s detrusor muscle can lose its power to contract, thus struggling to squeeze all the urine out. Certain medications with anticholinergic properties can also lead to retention. Older people are more susceptible to the effects of such drugs. 

Treatment for urinary retention

Possible treatments for urinary retention include surgery, antibiotics, and the use of intermittent catheters.

If the retention is caused by urethral stricture, the urethra can be dilated, or surgery can be done to remove the scar tissue. Surgery can also be implored to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate. 

If the cause of UR is a bacterial infection, such as in the case of UTI and prostatitis, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Often times, doctors will prescribe intermittent catheters, which help patients drain their bladder completely several times a day. 

If you need intermittent catheters, check out CompactCath! 

CompactCath produces catheters that are compact, discreet, and convenient. 

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