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Urinary Retention

Pacific Northwest Urology Specialists

Located in Bellingham, WA - Serving the Pacific Northwest

Urinary retention is primarily a problem that affects men due to an enlarged prostate. Women can develop urinary retention, but it’s not as common. The physicians at Pacific Northwest Urology Specialists have years of experience getting to the underlying cause of urinary retention then developing a customized treatment to relieve your symptoms. To learn more, call the office in Bellingham, Washington, or book an appointment online today.

Urinary Retention

What is urinary retention?

Urinary retention means that you can’t completely empty your bladder. Acute urinary retention develops suddenly and makes it impossible to urinate despite having a full bladder. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Urinary retention can also be a chronic condition that develops so slowly you’re not aware of the problem at first. With chronic urinary retention, it seems like you’re urinating normally, but a small amount of urine stays in your bladder.

In many cases, the problem is discovered when patients come in for help with a urinary tract infection or urinary incontinence.


What symptoms develop due to urinary retention?

Acute urinary retention causes the following symptoms:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Painful, urgent need to urinate
  • Pain in your lower abdomen
  • Abdominal bloating

Chronic urinary retention causes symptoms such as:

  • Urinating eight or more times daily
  • Trouble starting to urinate
  • Weak or interrupted urine stream
  • Urgent need to urinate with little success
  • Needing to urinate again after you just urinated
  • Mild discomfort in your lower abdomen

Patients with chronic urinary retention are more likely to develop complications, such as urinary tract infections and bladder or kidney damage.


What causes urinary retention?

Four primary health problems lead to urinary retention:

Urethral obstruction

The tube that carries urine out of your body, the urethra, can be blocked by several underlying conditions. The most common is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH); other possibilities include urinary tract stones, urethral narrowing, infections, and tumors.

Nerve problems

Nerves that control the bladder and its muscles can become damaged, which means the bladder doesn’t receive messages from your brain telling it to urinate. Pelvic trauma, diabetes, stroke, and spinal cord infections are a few examples of conditions that can damage urinary nerves.


Numerous prescription medications and over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants can lead to urinary retention by interfering with nerve signals.

Weakened bladder muscles

As aging weakens bladder muscles, they don’t contract with enough strength to eliminate urine.


How is urinary retention treated?

Your doctor at Pacific Northwest Urology Specialists treats urinary retention by identifying and correcting the underlying problem, which means there are many possible treatment options.

However, the first line of care is to eliminate retained urine using a catheter. Patients with chronic urinary retention need to occasionally self-catheterize to drain urine while waiting for treatment to work.

When you have difficulty urinating, call Pacific Northwest Urology Specialists or book an appointment online