Acute urinary retention

Revision as of 22:11, 15 November 2023 by Rossdonaldson1 (talk | contribs) (→‎Background)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)


(1) Human urinary system: (2) kidney; (3) renal pelvis; (4) ureter; (5) urinary bladder (6) urethra.
Additional structures: (7) adrenal gland; (8) renal artery and vein; (9) inferior vena cava; (10) abdominal aorta; (11) common iliac artery and vein; (12) liver; (13) large intestine; (14) pelvis.
Anatomy of the male bladder, showing transitional epithelium and part of the wall in a histological cut-out.

Clinical Features

Patient with acute urinary retention and dramatic bladder distention.
  • Suprapubic abdominal distention and/or pain
  • Frequency, urgency, hesitancy, dribbling, decrease in voiding stream

Differential Diagnosis

Urinary retention

Abdominal distention


Ultrasound of distended from urinary retention. Note trabeculated wall, which is a sign of urinary retention.
Bladder distension from acute urinary retention seen on CT.
  • UA/Urine cultures
  • Chemistry
  • CBC (if suspect infection or massive hematuria)
  • Bedside ultrasound (to verify retention)
    • Incomplete retention is PVR > 50ml and > 100ml in patients > 65 years of age[1]
    • Post-void residual of 150-200 cc is particularly concerning


Bladder Decompression

  • Urethral catheterization
    • Pass 14-18F Foley catheter (larger if blood clots)
    • Rate of decompression: rapid complete drainage
      • At one time, rapid complete bladder decompression was thought to increase the rate of potential complications, however partial drainage and clamping does not reduce these complications and may increase risk for UTI[2]
  • If unable to pass Foley, consider:

Other Considerations

  • Blood clot
    • Use 20-24F triple-lumen catheter to irrigate bladder until clear
  • Consider α-blocker as outpatient if concern for BPH (e.g. tamsulosin 0.4mg QHS)
    • Results in significant increase in voiding success
    • Possibility of orthostatic hypotension
  • Urology consult



Admit for:


  • Otherwise consider discharge with catheter placed to leg bag and urology follow up within 1 week

See Also


  1. Shenot PJ. Urinary Retention. Merck Manual. August 2014.
  2. Management of urinary retention: rapid versus gradual decompression and risk of complications