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Acute urinary retention treatment

Being unable to urinate in the short-term is called acute urinary retention. This condition can be painful and needs urgent medical attention to drain the bladder using a catheter.

A catheter - a small, flexible rubber or silicone tube - is inserted through the urethra into the bladder. Once it has reached your bladder, urine will drain out into a bag.

  • The catheter can either be removed immediately or kept in place to provide continuous drainage.
  • The decision to remove the catheter will depend on the amount of urine obtained and the likelihood that your symptoms will come back.
  • The normal bladder capacity in adults is about 400 - 600 ml. If you retain much more urine than this, the catheter will be left in place to allow the bladder to contract to normal size.
  • Sometimes when the retained urine is finally drained, it is bloody or slightly pinkish. This is usually minor and stops on its own in a short time. Your doctor or nurse will monitor this to make sure it stops.

If a catheter cannot reach your bladder because of an obstruction in the urethra, an alternative procedure will be tried.

  • The most common reason for the obstruction is a narrowing or stricture within the urethra.
  • The catheter can be placed through the skin over the pubic bone, and through the lower abdominal wall, directly into the bladder. This is called the suprapubic route. The tube will provide temporary drainage until the cause of the obstruction can be treated.
  • Various dilators may be used to open the urethral channel wide enough to pass a catheter through.
  • A urologist may do an immediate cystoscopy to insert the catheter under direct vision.

Devices are now available that can help some people with chronic urinary retention. For example, an implantable device is available that stimulates the nerves that control the bladder. For some people, this helps the bladder relax and contract at the right times to allow urination.

Talk to your doctor about what kind of treatment might work for you.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 11, 2016

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