Urinary Retention

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Definition & Facts

Urinary retention is a condition in which you cannot empty all the urine from your bladder. Urinary retention can be acute—a sudden inability to urinate, or chronic—a gradual inability to completely empty the bladder of urine.

doctor talking to a patient

Symptoms & Causes

The symptoms of urinary retention can range from severe abdominal pain and the inability to urinate, to few or no symptoms at all. Urinary retention results from either a blockage that partially or fully prevents the flow of urine, or your bladder not being able to maintain a strong enough force to expel all the urine.


Health care professionals use your medical history, a physical exam, and tests to help find the cause of urinary retention. Tests include postvoid residual urine measurement, lab tests, imaging tests, urodynamic tests, and cystoscopy.


Treatment for urinary retention depends on the type of urinary retention you have—either acute or chronic—and the cause of your urinary retention. Treatments for urinary retention may include draining the bladder, medicines, medical procedures or devices, surgery, and self-care treatments.


You can’t always prevent urinary retention, but by staying in tune with your body and bathroom habits, taking medicine as prescribed, strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, and making good dietary choices, you can help keep your bladder as healthy as possible.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

Last Reviewed December 2019

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank
Steven A. Kaplan, M.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai