Urinary Retention (cont.)
In this Article
What is urinary retention?
Urinary retention is the inability to empty the bladder completely. Urinary retention can be acute or chronic. Acute urinary retention happens suddenly and lasts only a short time. People with acute urinary retention cannot urinate at all, even though they have a full bladder. Acute urinary retention, a potentially life-threatening medical condition, requires immediate emergency treatment. Acute urinary retention can cause great discomfort or pain.
Chronic urinary retention can be a long-lasting medical condition. People with chronic urinary retention can urinate. However, they do not completely empty all of the urine from their bladders. Often people are not even aware they have this condition until they develop another problem, such as urinary incontinence -- loss of bladder control, resulting in the accidental loss of urine -- or a urinary tract infection (UTI), an illness caused by harmful bacteria growing in the urinary tract.
What is the urinary tract and how does it work?
The urinary tract is the body's drainage system for removing urine, which is composed of wastes and extra fluid. In order for normal urination to occur, all body parts in the urinary tract need to work together in the correct order.
Kidneys. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are located just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. Every day, the kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of urine. The kidneys work around the clock; a person does not control what they do.
Ureters. Ureters are the thin tubes of muscle -- one on each side of the bladder -- that carry urine from each of the kidneys to the bladder.
Bladder. The bladder, located in the pelvis between the pelvic bones, is a hollow, muscular, balloon-shaped organ that expands as it fills with urine. Although a person does not control kidney function, a person does control when the bladder empties. Bladder emptying is known as urination. The bladder stores urine until the person finds an appropriate time and place to urinate. A normal bladder acts like a reservoir and can hold 1.5 to 2 cups of urine. How often a person needs to urinate depends on how quickly the kidneys produce the urine that fills the bladder. The muscles of the bladder wall remain relaxed while the bladder fills with urine. As the bladder fills to capacity, signals sent to the brain tell a person to find a toilet soon. During urination, the bladder empties through the urethra, located at the bottom of the bladder.
Three sets of muscles work together like a dam, keeping urine in the bladder.
The first set is the muscles of the urethra itself. The area where the urethra joins the bladder is the bladder neck. The bladder neck, composed of the second set of muscles known as the internal sphincter, helps urine stay in the bladder. The third set of muscles is the pelvic floor muscles, also referred to as the external sphincter, which surround and support the urethra.
To urinate, the brain signals the muscular bladder wall to tighten, squeezing urine out of the bladder. At the same time, the brain signals the sphincters to relax. As the sphincters relax, urine exits the bladder through the urethra.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/13/2014
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