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The Main Causes of Urinary Retention in Women and How to Deal With It

While anyone can experience urinary retention, it is most common in men who are in their fifties or sixties. This means that much of the information available is specific to older men even though it is possible for women to develop the same condition.

Urinary retention in women is relatively rare, with an estimated 3 cases per 100,000 women every year. By contrast, roughly one out of every three men over the age of 80 will experience this condition.

Are you wondering what you should know about urinary retention and its causes?

Let’s take a look at what you need to know.

What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Retention?

Urinary retention is a condition that has two different forms, acute and chronic. In both forms, your bladder doesn’t completely empty even once it has gotten full. People with this condition will feel like they have to urinate often.

Both men and women can be affected by this disorder. However, it is more common in men, particularly as they age. Some research has found that this condition is actually ten times more likely to occur in men than women.

Acute Urinary Retention

When acute urinary retention develops, it comes on all of a sudden and can develop into a life-threatening condition. With this disorder, you are unable to urinate but feel like you need to very badly. It can cause a lot of discomfort and pain in the region of your lower abdomen.

If you are concerned that you have acute urinary retention, you will want to get emergency medical care immediately. They will be able to help you release the urine buildup in your bladder.

(Are you experiencing bladder pain? If so, check out the five most common reasons this occurs in women.)

Chronic Urinary Retention

This type of urinary retention happens over a more drawn-out period of time. Your bladder doesn’t empty completely when you urinate, but you are still able to urinate. Sometimes you won’t display any symptoms at first, which can make it difficult to know that you even have the condition.

Complications can arise from chronic urinary retention. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as you can:

  • It’s hard to begin your urine stream
  • You feel like you need to urinate often, as much as eight or more times every day
  • Your urine stream starts and stops or is weak
  • You get up a number of times during the night to urinate
  • You feel like you have to urinate immediately after you just urinated
  • Throughout the day, urine leaks from your bladder
  • It’s hard to tell when your bladder is full
  • You have the strong feeling that you need to urinate frequently, only to be unable to stop yourself from urinating, also known as urge incontinence
  • You have an ongoing feeling of fullness or sense of mild discomfort in your lower abdomen/pelvis

Other symptoms include pain, severe discomfort, and a bloated lower belly.

Some of the complications that can arise from this condition include chronic kidney disease and urinary tract infection.

The Main Causes of Urinary Retention in Women

Your bladder and your urethra make up your lower urinary tract. Your bladder stores urine and your urethra is a tube that connects your bladder to the outside of your body. The prostate is an additional part of this system for men.

When it’s time to urinate, the muscles that are in your bladder squeeze in order to push urine out of your body. Simultaneously, your nervous system is communicating to your sphincters that they should open. When all is going well, the urine will then travel through your urethra and leave your body.

You have two different sphincters, an internal sphincter and an external sphincter. While you do have control over the external sphincter, you can’t control the internal sphincter.

If there are issues with any of these structures it can lead to urinary retention. Additionally, if there are problems with the nerves that make them work it can also lead to this disorder.

Click here for a more thorough look at the urinary system and how it works.


If there is anything that is blocking the flow of urine from your bladder, it can lead to either acute urinary retention or chronic urinary retention. Both men and women can have obstructions caused by:

  • Urethral stricture
  • Urinary tract stones
  • Severe constipation
  • Cancer or a mass in your intestine or pelvis
  • A foreign object inserted into the urethra
  • A blood clot from bladder bleeding
  • Severe inflammation of the urethra

Additional potential causes include a rectocele or a cystocele. A prolapse, which is when your uterus moves down from the position it is normally in, can also get in the way of your bladder outlet.


It’s possible that your urinary retention is caused by the medications you’re taking. Some medications can impact your bladder’s ability to make the internal urinary sphincter contract or squeeze urine out.


Urinary retention can occur temporarily after surgery. This is particularly true after spinal or joint replacement surgery.

Nerve Problems

Your brain has to send signals through your nervous system to your bladder and sphincters in order to urinate. Even if one of these nerve signals isn’t working properly, it can lead to urinary retention.


For women, an infection of the outer part of the vagina known as vulvovaginitis can lead to urinary retention. Cystitis and bladder infections can also cause this condition.

Are You Looking For a Urogynecologist in Houston?

Urinary retention in women can be treated in a number of different ways. While acute urinary retention is a medical emergency and needs to be tended to immediately, chronic urinary retention can be treated if it is creating urinary tract complications or if it’s affecting your quality of life.

If you think you might be experiencing urinary retention, contact us today with questions or to schedule an initial consultation.


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