Current Environment:

What is urinary retention?

Urinary retention is the inability to fully empty the bladder for longer than 12 hours. Children who retain urine typically have the urge to urinate but cannot form a stream of urine or completely empty their bladder. This can lead to abdominal pain, straining to urinate when using the toilet, and leakage of urine.

Urinary Retention and Straining | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of urinary retention?

Children who are retaining urine may experience symptoms such as:

  • inability to start urinating or fully empty to bladder
  • straining while trying to urinate
  • dribbling or leakage of urine
  • weak urine stream
  • abdominal pain

What causes urinary retention?

Urinary retention can be acute (short lived) or chronic (longer lasting). Most cases of acute urinary retention are caused by factors such as:

Chronic urinary retention tends to be the result of neuromuscular conditions (such as spina bifida), obstructions (such as posterior urethral valves in boys), pelvic masses, and inguinal hernias

Urinary Retention and Straining | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is urinary retention diagnosed?

Acute urinary retention is considered an emergency, so you should seek immediate care if your child hasn’t been able to urinate or fully empty their bladder for 12 hours or more. In addition to taking a medical history and performing a physical exam, the physician may recommend other tests, such as:

  • urinalysis to check for UTI or abnormal kidney function
  • renal bladder ultrasound: this imaging examination is used to determine the size and shape of your child's kidney and bladder, and to detect a mass, stone, cyst, or other obstruction or abnormalities.

How is urinary retention treated?

At Boston Children’s Center for Healthy Elimination and Bladder Rehabilitation (CHEER), our goal is to rule offer a personalized diagnostic approach to your child, to rule out anatomical problems that may lead to urinary retention, offer non-surgical treatment options, and provide your family with support.

If your child is experiencing acute urinary retention, their physician will likely use a catheter (thin, flexible tube) to drain the bladder of urine. They will then try to prevention future cases of urinary retention by treating UTIs or other causes, referring to a gastroenterologist for chronic constipation, or recommending behavioral therapy to address habits such as holding urine for too long.

Urinary Retention and Straining | Programs & Services