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Acute urinary retention

Glen W Barrisford, MD, MS
Graeme S Steele, MBBCh, FCS
Section Editors
Michael P O'Leary, MD, MPH
Robert S Hockberger, MD, FACEP
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


Acute urinary retention (AUR) is the inability to voluntarily pass urine. It is the most common urologic emergency [1]. In men, AUR is most often secondary to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH); AUR is rare in women [2,3].

This topic will review the epidemiology, pathogenesis and etiology, clinical presentation, evaluation, diagnosis, acute management, and subsequent evaluation and management of AUR. The diagnosis and treatment of BPH are discussed separately. (See "Clinical manifestations and diagnostic evaluation of benign prostatic hyperplasia" and "Medical treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia" and "Transurethral procedures for treating benign prostatic hyperplasia".)


Acute urinary retention (AUR) is common in men. The incidence increases with age, occurring most frequently in men over age 60 [2-5]. It is estimated that, over a five-year period, approximately 10 percent of men over the age of 70 and almost one-third of men in their 80s will develop AUR [2,3,6].

By contrast, AUR is rare in women [7]. It is estimated that there are three cases of AUR per 100,000 women per year [8]. The female to male incidence rate ratio is 1:13.


A variety of pathophysiologic mechanisms may be responsible for the development of acute urinary retention (AUR). These mechanisms may overlap within any specific etiology.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 29, 2017.
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