Simply put, urinary retention is a person’s inability to empty his bladder. Acute urinary retention results in a complete inability to urinate, while chronic urinary retention causes difficulty emptying the bladder completely or starting a stream of urine.
One of the most common causes of urinary retention is prostate enlargement in men in their 50s and 60s, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Women also experience this condition, especially if they have sagging or prolapsed bladders or rectums. Nerve damage, such as damage associated with spinal cord injury, also makes it difficult to urinate normally. This type of nerve damage interferes with the normal function of the bladder.
Acute urinary retention requires immediate treatment, as it is an emergency that leads to serious risks. As long as the flow of urine is blocked, the normally-sterile urine has the opportunity to grow bacteria that infect the urinary system. An infection of the bladder can lead to a serious kidney infection if not treated immediately. Urine backing up into the kidneys also leads to permanent kidney damage, a risk factor for chronic kidney disease. Since urinary retention causes the bladder to stretch, chronic urinary retention can lead to bladder muscle damage.
Acute urinary retention causes significant pain and discomfort. The lower belly is also bloated in cases of urinary retention. Chronic urinary retention causes mild discomfort, with difficulty starting a normal stream of urine. You may also experience weak urine flow and dribbling between episodes of urination. This dribbling is known as overflow incontinence.
Doctors use several tests to diagnose urinary retention. A urine sample will reveal infection that may be the result of chronic or acute retention of urine. The PSA blood test helps determine the cause of an enlarged prostate, which also causes urinary retention. Other diagnostic tests for urinary retention include cystoscopy, bladder scans, x-rays, computerized tomography (CT scan), and urodynamic tests.
Straight Catheterization for Urinary Retention
One of the treatments used is straight catheterization for urinary retention. During this procedure, the patient inserts a sterile catheter (plastic tube) into the bladder via the urethra. This drains the urine from the bladder and relieves the symptoms of urinary retention. In cases of acute urinary retention, catheterization may only be necessary until the condition is resolved. In cases of chronic urinary retention, a patient may have to use a catheter on a daily basis.
It is important to thoroughly wash your hands prior to using catheterization equipment, as you can transfer germs from your hands to your urinary tract via the catheter. When you finish catheterizing, wash all of your equipment thoroughly and make sure it dries properly before using it again. If plastic catheters do not meet your needs, several medical supply companies also make metal and silicone catheters.
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Urinary Retention
National Institutes of Health: Urinary Catheters