Urinary retention is when the bladder is unable to empty properly. With chronic retention you may leak small amounts of urine (wee) when there’s increased pressure on the bladder (e.g. while coughing, sneezing or opening the bowels).

Signs that your bladder is not completely emptying include:

  • feeling that you need to strain to pass urine
  • a weak or slow urine stream
  • feeling as if your bladder is not empty just after going to the toilet
  • little or no warning when you need to pass urine
  • passing urine while asleep
  • frequent urinary tract infections or cystitis
  • 'dribbling' more urine after visiting the toilet.


There are several possible causes for this type of incontinence. These include:

  • A blockage of the urethra (bladder outlet tube) caused by a full bladder – the full bladder can put pressure on the urethra, making it difficult to pass urine
  • an enlarged prostate
  • a prolapse of pelvic organs which can block the urethra
  • damage to the nerves that control the bladder, urethral sphincter or pelvic floor muscles
  • diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke or Parkinson's – these conditions can interfere with the sensation of a full bladder and with bladder emptying
  • some medications including over the counter medications and herbal products.


Chronic urinary retention needs urgent professional help

Incontinence associated with chronic retention may cause serious damage to the bladder and kidneys and should always be treated by a doctor or continence health professional.

For further information and to find assistance in your area contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.


Last Updated: Wed 29, May 2024
Last Reviewed: Mon 23, Mar 2020