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Inability to Urinate (cont.)

Inability to Urinate Causes

The two essential causes of urinary retention are (1) blockage of the urethra and (2) disruption of the delicate and complex system of nerves that connects the urinary tract with the brain and the nervous system (as described earlier).

Common causes

  • Blockage (obstruction): The most common cause of blockage of the urethra in men is enlargement of the prostate. In males, the prostate gland partially surrounds the urethra. If the prostate becomes enlarged, which is common in older men, it presses on the urethra and can block it. The most common cause of prostate enlargement is benign prostatic hypertrophy (often called BPH). Other causes of prostate enlargement include prostate cancer and prostate infection (prostatitis). Causes of blockage of the urethra that can occur in both sexes include scar tissue, injury (as in a car wreck or bad fall), blood clots, infection, tumors in the pelvic region, and stones (rare).
  • Nerve problems: Disruption of the nerves between the bladder and the brain can cause you to lose control of your bladder function. The problem may lie in the nerves that send messages back and forth or in the nerves that control the muscles used in urination, or both. Some forms of this condition are referred to as neurogenic bladder. Occasionally, urinary retention is the first sign of spinal cord compression, a medical emergency that must be treated right away to prevent permanent, serious disability. The most common causes of this disruption include spinal cord injury, spinal cord tumor, strokes, diabetes mellitus, herniated or ruptured disk in the vertebral column of the back, or an infection or blood clot that places pressure on your spinal cord.
  • Infection: An infection in the pelvic area, such as herpes, can interfere with nerves in the area. Inflammation and swelling caused by infections can also compress the urethra. Infections around the spinal cord can cause retention by placing pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord.
  • Surgery: Urinary retention is a relatively common problem after surgery. It can be a direct result of the anesthetic or the type of operation. Relative immobility after a surgery can also contribute to urinary retention. Previous bladder or prostate surgeries can sometimes cause urinary retention because of the formation of strictures (narrowing) due to scar tissue.

Medication-related causes

Certain medications can cause urinary retention, especially in men with prostate enlargement. Many of these medications are found in over-the-counter cold and allergy preparations.

  • Drugs that act to tighten the urinary channel and block the flow of urine include ephedrine (Kondon's Nasal, Pretz-D), pseudoephedrine (Actifed, Afrin, Drixoral, Sudafed, Triaminic), and phenylpropanolamine (Acutrim, Dexatrim, Phenoxine, Prolamine).
  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Compoz, Nytol, Sominex) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton, Allergy 8 Hr), as well as some older antidepressants, can relax the bladder too much and cause urination problems.

Urinary retention in children

  • A child can have problems from birth that cause an inability to urinate properly. These problems usually become apparent within the first six months of life.
  • A child may suddenly become unwilling to urinate. This is generally due to a temporary condition, causing them pain with urination. Pain can be caused by a vaginal yeast infection in girls or an irritation from soap or shampoo used in bathing. Almost always, the child will eventually urinate without further help.

Other causes

Chronic urinary retention usually develops slowly because the bladder does not empty completely. It may take a very long time to be diagnosed because you may not have any symptoms.

  • A weak bladder muscle, chronic obstruction, and nerve diseases or injury all can contribute to chronic urinary retention.
  • Chronic retention can lead to urinary incontinence (the unwanted leakage of urine from the bladder), urinary tract infection, and kidney failure.
  • Prolonged immobility can increase the risk of urinary retention.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2014

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