Urinary retention can happen at any age, though it most commonly occurs in males aged 50+, and often due to an enlarged prostate (BPH). However, urinary retention can also occur in females, typically due to a condition known as cystocele – which is when the bladder sags or moves out of its normal position.
A condition known as rectocele can also cause urinary retention in both sexes when the bladder is pulled out of position by the colon. In addition to age-based conditions, people of all ages, male or female, can have nerve disease or damage that can interfere with the bladder function.
Urinary retention is the inability to empty urine from the bladder and can be characterized as acute or chronic. Acute urinary retention usually occurs suddenly and temporarily. Individuals suffering from acute urinary retention are unable to empty their bladder at all — they can feel the urge to urinate, but can’t go at all.
This can be potentially life-threatening as pressure is built up in the bladder and may lead to a rupture. This causes a great deal of discomfort or pain in the lower abdomen. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek emergency medical attention immediately to release the buildup of urine.
Chronic urinary retention, on the other hand, typically lasts a long period of time. Individuals with chronic urinary retention are usually able to urinate, but cannot empty their bladder completely. It is extremely common for people with chronic urinary retention to be unaware of their condition as symptoms may not be as clear at first.
Symptoms of chronic urinary retention include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention from a urologist. If left untreated, it can lead to the development of other conditions, such as urinary incontinence, kidney disease, bladder damage, and/or urinary tract infections (UTIs).
To understand the different causes of urinary retention, it is useful to understand the different parts of the urinary system and how they work together to help the body create, store and release urine:
Problems in any of these organs or the nerves that control them can cause urinary retention, but some of the more common causes of urinary retention include:
The primary function of the urethra is to carry urine out of the body, so any obstruction in this structure can cause both acute or chronic urinary retention, as the normal flow of urine is blocked. Acute urinary retention is caused by a sudden, complete obstruction of the urethra; whereas chronic urinary retention is caused by the progressive and often partial obstruction of the urethra.
Common causes of urethral obstruction include:
Two things occur when you urinate: the muscles in the bladder wall contract to push urine out, and the brain sends signals down the spinal cord and surrounding nerves to contract the sphincters, causing the urethra to open and close, allowing the urine to leave the bladder.
If the nerves controlling the bladder and sphincters are damaged, the brain may not receive signals that the bladder is full, or that the sphincters need to relax, which can cause urinary retention.
Many events can interfere with the nerve functions of the bladder. Some common causes include:
It is common for patients to experience temporary or acute urinary retention after surgeries. This occurs due to anesthesia, which blocks pain signals in the nerves, which can impair overall bladder function. This, in combination with IV fluid administration, can sometimes cause urinary retention temporarily.
However, acute urinary retention usually disappears after the anesthesia has worn off, and the patient usually regains full bladder control.
A side effect of some medications can cause impaired function in the bladder muscles, making it difficult to push urine out of the bladder, causing urinary retention.
These medications may include:
Acute urinary retention is considered a medical emergency, and your doctor will place a catheter directly into the bladder to let out the urine. If this method of catheterization isn’t effective the doctor will create a small hole in the skin directly over your bladder and through the wall of the bladder. A suprapubic catheter would then be inserted directly into your bladder and the urine should quickly be drained.
Chronic urinary retention affects hundreds of thousands of people every year, impacting their quality of life with constant symptoms and complications.
Below are the number of ways in which chronic urinary retention is treated.
Self-Catheterization for Urinary Retention
Self-catheterization, or the use of a catheter, such as an Intermittent catheter, is one of the most popular ways to alleviate the symptoms of chronic urinary retention. Intermittent catheters require the individual to use a different catheter every time they need to urinate, typically 4 – 5 times per day.
While intermittent catheters are the most popular, there are other urinary catheteroptions:
Chronic urinary retention is often the cause of urinary stricture, or the narrowing of the urethra commonly due to injury or infection, which prevents urine from flowing through.
To widen or dilate the urethral stricture, stents, or small tubes, are inserted into the urethra. As they are inserted into the urethra, stents widen, opening up the stricture and increasing urine flow. Depending on the severity of the stricture, stents can either be inserted temporarily or remain in the urethra permanently. This procedure is used to widen the urethral stricture to allow more urine to flow through.
When it’s determined that chronic urinary retention is caused by bladder stones or blood clots, a flexible, lighted tubular scope called a cystoscope will usually be inserted into the urethra to find and remove foreign objects from the urethra, bladder, and/or bladder outlet.
Some medications that may help with urinary retention include:
For less severe cases of urinary retention, some lifestyle/behavior modifications can be done to alleviate symptoms:
Your doctor may suggest surgery as a treatment if other therapies were unsuccessful in treating urinary retention. Most surgeries to treat urinary retention are outpatient procedures and minimally invasive, reducing pain and speeding up recovery time:
If urinary retention is caused by a structural abnormality in a bladder organ, laparoscopic or open surgical procedures may be required to:
For many with urinary retention, self-catheterizing becomes an essential part of daily life, requiring individuals to use a catheter multiple times a day.
However, the bulky and uncomfortable nature of traditional intermittent catheters often causes inconvenience and embarrassment to catheter users, which can lead to infrequent usage and eventually increased the risk of infection and/or further complicated.
CompactCath has been designed to fit in one’s palm, providing a smaller, easier and more discreet experience than traditional catheters.
It is a compact intermittent urinary catheter that aims to reduce the inconvenience or embarrassment felt by some patients about self-catheterizing. It does this by minimizing catheter size, noisy packaging, and risk of developing infections and creating a mess.
CompactCath® Classic comes ready to use right out of the package. It is pre-lubricated, has a drainage control mechanism, and lastly features an opaque packaging that brings users more privacy.