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Urinary Retention After Surgery: Care Instructions


Urinary retention means you can't pass urine—even with a full bladder. It may feel like pain in the lower belly. Or you might not feel anything. You may have bladder spasms or urine leaking. Or you may have a strong urge to go, but nothing will come out. If you haven't urinated for 6 hours, you may have urinary retention.

This is fairly common after some surgeries. But it could become serious if left untreated. Treatment includes draining the bladder with a small tube called a catheter. You may go home with a catheter. If so, they will tell you when to come back to have it removed. This may be after a few days or weeks.

Most people are able to urinate in a normal way again after treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you did not go home with a catheter, drink fluids and spread them throughout the day. Also, avoid drinking a lot at bedtime.
  • If you did go home with a catheter, drink fluids regularly throughout the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Do what your doctor tells you to do for your catheter. Wash your hands before and after you touch the catheter.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed.
  • Check with your doctor before you use any over-the-counter medicines. Many cold and allergy medicines can make this problem worse. Make sure that your doctor knows all of the medicines and natural health products you take.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You did not go home with a catheter and:
    • You can't urinate at all.
    • It's getting harder to urinate.
    • You haven't passed urine for 6 hours.
  • You went home with a catheter and:
    • The catheter is not draining in the bag.
    • Urine is not coming out.
    • The urine is going around the outside of the catheter.
  • You have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These may include:
    • Pain or burning when you urinate.
    • A need to urinate without being able to pass much urine.
    • Pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
    • Blood in your urine.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have any problems passing urine or with your catheter.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.