Urine retention may occur either because the bladder wall muscles cannot contract or because the sphincter muscles cannot relax.
Catheter. A catheter is a thin tube that can be inserted through the urethra into the bladder to allow urine to flow into a collection bag. If you are able to place the catheter yourself, you can learn to carry out the procedure at regular intervals, a practice called clean intermittent catheterization. Some patients cannot place their own catheters because nerve damage affects their hand coordination as well as their voiding function. These patients need to have a caregiver place the catheter for them at regular intervals. If regular catheter placement is not feasible, the patients may need to have an indwelling catheter that can be changed less often. Indwelling catheters have several risks, including infection, bladder stones, and bladder tumors. However, if the bladder cannot be emptied any other way, then the catheter is the only way to stop the buildup of urine in the bladder that can damage the kidneys.
Urethral stent. Stents are small tube-like devices inserted into the urethra and allowed to expand, like a spring, widening the opening for urine to flow out. Stents can help prevent urine backup when the bladder wall and sphincter contract at the same time because of improper nerve signals. However, stents can cause problems if they move or lead to infection.
Surgery. Men may consider a surgery that removes the external sphincter-a sphincterotomy-or a piece of it-a sphincter resection-to prevent urinary retention. The surgeon will pass a thin instrument through the urethra to deliver electrical or laser energy that burns away sphincter tissue. Possible complications include bleeding that requires a transfusion and, rarely, problems with erections. This procedure causes loss of urine control and requires the patient to collect urine by wearing an external catheter that fits over the penis like a condom. No external collection device is available for women.
Urinary diversion. If other treatments fail and urine regularly backs up and damages the kidneys, the doctor may recommend a urinary diversion, a procedure that may require an outside collection bag attached to a stoma, a surgically created opening where urine passes out of the body. Another form of urinary diversion replaces the bladder with a continent urinary reservoir, an internal pouch made from sections of the bowel or other tissue. This method allows the person to store urine inside the body until a catheter is used to empty it through a stoma.
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