urinary retention
Incontinence

Urinary Retention: When The Gotta-Go Won’t

Ladies, it’s interesting how almost all of us have struggled or currently struggle with our trips to the bathroom, but each of our struggles are a little different. For instance, some of us are rushing to the bathroom several times an hour with a burning urgency to pee and then not able to go. Sounds irritating, right? Then others are able to get to the bathroom in time, but are only able to pee a little at a time. Then there’s some of us that feel as if even after we’ve gone that our bladder still feels uncomfortably full. Well, all of these examples could fall under the broad umbrella of urinary retention. Keep on reading to learn what this frustrating condition is and what you can do about it. 

What Exactly Is Urinary Retention? 

Have you ever gone to the bathroom and felt like you didn’t get all the pee out? If yes, then you know how annoying that feeling is. Well, that’s pretty much what urinary retention is, but if we want to be scientific, medical professionals define it as “a condition in which you cannot empty all the urine from your bladder.” 

Who Does It Affect?

We ladies are the lucky ones who are most likely to be impacted by urinary retention but this condition doesn’t discriminate. Men and women are both affected. If you’re anything like me, then your next question was: “why are we more likely than our male counterparts to get this annoying condition?” Well, one answer is aging. While men and women both age, we’re the ones to go through menopause. Going through this change can alter our hormones and cause the muscles in our pelvic floor to weaken. 

Another risk factor for this condition is pregnancy, which can stretch and strain our pelvic floor muscles. Most of us associate pregnancy with that “gotta-go” urgency, but the experience can later lead to “gotta…I-guess-not”. 

Acute Versus Chronic Urinary Retention

Although urinary retention can happen for various reasons, and the symptoms may look dramatically different from person to person, medical professionals divide the condition into two broad categories: acute and chronic. 

What Is Acute Urinary Retention? 

Acute urinary retention happens when you suddenly experience the symptoms of urinary retention when before you were able to go to the bathroom normally. A lot of times, with sudden and acute urinary retention, you’re not able to pee or empty your bladder at all. Not only is this painful (and annoying), but it can also lead to a medical emergency. 

Acute urinary retention usually requires medical assistance. One solution that gives you almost immediate relief is the insertion of a catheter. A medical professional will insert the catheter to drain the pee from the bladder. This quick procedure eases the pain and prevents kidney damage. 

In some situations, doctors will recommend surgery to remove potential blockages, like a tumor. 

What Is Chronic Urinary Retention? 

Now that you know what acute urinary retention is, let’s talk about the chronic version. The first thing you should know is that chronic urinary retention is more common than its acute counterpart. In addition, it develops over a longer period of time. Although symptoms are still terribly frustrating, they may be more subtle. 

Usually, if you have this chronic version, you will still be able to urinate. But, you will feel as if your bladder is still full, which is super annoying. You might also have some problems with drips and spritz between trips to the bathroom. This type of incontinence is seen with a condition like urinary retention when the right treatment hasn’t been found yet. But don’t fret, we’ll get to those options soon. Luckily, Lily Bird’s got you covered with pads and underwear to ensure the leaks stay contained while you’re waiting to find the right option for you. 

How Is It Diagnosed? 

One of the most important parts of the diagnosis process is getting to the root cause of why the bladder won’t empty. As mentioned above, weak pelvic floor muscles help explain many cases of urinary retention in women. But, this is not the only cause of this problem. Other common causes may include: 

For many, constipation is an unlikely cause, but it makes sense when you think about it. If you’re backed up, the poop still chilling inside can push against and limit flow through the ureter. 

Test, Tests, And More Tests

Often, doctors will be able to diagnose chronic urinary retention by taking a full medical history and conducting an exam. Sometimes, a diagnosis requires more specific diagnostics and imaging tests. Usually, they’ll start off wanting an ultrasound of the bladder, and sometimes, this ultrasound will also include the kidneys too. If this does not give your medical provider all of the answers they are looking for, they may order a cystoscopy

A cystoscopy is a medical procedure and test that allows doctors to see the inside of the urinary tract by inserting a tube with a camera. Sometimes you can go to your doctor’s office for this procedure. However, because it’s a little more uncomfortable, most people opt to have it done at a hospital under local or even general anesthesia. 

Treating Chronic Urinary Retention

There is no one treatment option that will solve all cases of this frustrating condition. In fact, treatment will likely depend on the cause of your urinary retention.

For example, if your medical provider determines that you have a urinary tract infection, then you will be treated with an appropriate antibiotic. If the ultrasound or cystoscopy uncovers bladder stones, you may need to undergo surgery to remove the stones. Other treatment options may include addressing constipation (if this is identified as a contributing cause of urinary retention) or pelvic floor physical therapy to help strengthen your muscles. The latter is especially important if weakened muscles play a role in your urinary retention, which it does for many women. 

Urinary Retention Revealed  

Urinary retention is a troubling condition that affects millions of women (and men too). If you are suffering from urinary retention, you may feel an almost constant urge to visit the bathroom to pee, but you may struggle to actually empty your bladder. We understand how these symptoms can disrupt your quality of life, which makes this important to talk with a qualified medical provider about. They’ll be able to determine exactly why this is happening and help improve your symptoms with the right treatment plan. Therefore, fear not! And don’t give up hope when it seems like your bladder just won’t quite empty enough. 

Unruly bladder keeping you from living your best life? Lily Bird has you covered. With pads and underwear to help protect against dribbles and spritz, we’ve got your back. Get started today.

By Jessica Thomas, MPH