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Inability to Urinate (cont.)

Exams and Tests

Medical evaluation for urinary retention includes a medical and physical examination (including a prostate examination in men) to find the cause of the problem.

A catheter can be placed in the urethra. This is a thin, flexible tube. It goes up the bladder and drains the urine into a bag.

  • This is done both for diagnosis and as a treatment of the immediate problem. Draining urine almost always relieves the symptoms, at least for a while.
  • A urine sample will be taken to check for signs of infection, bladder irritation, stones, or other problems.

Other lab tests may be done, depending on your doctor's conclusions from your medical interview and exam.

  • Blood may be drawn to check for signs of infection, to check your electrolyte balance, and possibly to rule out certain conditions.
  • The blood also may be checked for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This is the same test used to screen men for prostate cancer.
  • A sample of the secretions from your penis (men) or vagina (women) may be checked for signs of infection as well.

If the doctor suspects an acute nerve problem causing urinary retention, a CT scan or MRI of the spine can be done for further evaluation.

People with chronic urinary retention or suspected bladder muscle weakness may be referred to a specialist in disorders of the urinary tract (urologist).

  • The urologist may perform advanced urodynamic testing to see what is causing the problem.
  • If necessary, an ultrasound may be recommended to examine the upper urinary tract (the kidneys and ureters) to evaluate their size and examine for evidence of infection, stones, or other possible clues regarding the cause of urinary retention.
  • The urologist also may recommend cystoscopy. A cystoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end. It is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder, urethra, and prostate for abnormalities that can cause urinary retention.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2014

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