Urinary Retention and Overflow Incontinence

What is overflow incontinence?

Overflow incontinence, sometimes referred to as chronic urinary retention, happens when your bladder doesn’t empty itself completely, and the urine starts to fill up the bladder again very soon. To compensate for this, the urine starts to leak out.

Urinary retention must be treated urgently because there is a risk of damage to the kidneys. This is caused by pressure of urine building up in the bladder and urinary tract. Care staff should be alert and observant for typical symptoms to detect the signs of urine retention like emptying difficulties or frequent urge to urinate.

Symptoms of overflow incontinence

Symptoms of bladder emptying issues, such as overflow incontinence, could include having difficulties with starting to urinate. You are usually able to go, but the flow is not what it used to be. You may also feel the need to go often, even during the night.
Typical symptoms of overflow incontinence can include:
• difficulty in starting to urinate
• feeling that the bladder is not emptied after urinating
• an interrupted or weak urine stream
• frequent urge to urinate and frequent night time urination 
We understand that experiencing these symptoms can be incredibly frustrating – you will have to go to the toilet more often and urinating can be laboured as you may struggle to start, before only being able to sustain a weak flow. Sometimes leakage will occur anyway despite these frequent visits. 

Causes of urinary retention and overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence may be caused by a urethral obstruction (prostate enlargement, faecal impaction, etc.) which makes it more difficult for the urine to pass. It’s far more prevalent amongst men than it is with women, as an enlarged prostate is the most common trigger. This causes a blockage in your urethra and increases the pressure on your bladder meaning urine cannot pass through, causing leakage.
It can also be caused by an inactive bladder muscle, giving you trouble with squeezing properly to empty the bladder – thus leading to acute urinary retention. An inactive bladder muscle could be caused by nerve damage involving the nerves that control the bladder (diabetes, MS or injury) or side effects of some medications. 

Overflow incontinence and urinary retention treatment

If you do have problems emptying your bladder properly, it is important to seek professional help in order to avoid the pressure of urine building up in the bladder and urinary tract which could also affect the kidneys. You can see a doctor or a continence nurse. Keep track of your toilet habits and bladder activity a couple of days before your appointment. That’s a good way to prepare for the visit and will make it easier for your healthcare professional to set a diagnosis.
In order to understand the problem better, your doctor will do a physical examination. The findings from this examination might lead you to other professionals, such as a urologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases in the urinary tract) or a neurologist if that’s necessary. When a proper diagnosis is set, your doctor will know the right urinary retention treatment.
For men with an enlarged prostate gland, surgery of the prostate may be the appropriate treatment. This involves removing part of the prostate gland which compresses the urethra, thus relieving symptoms of urinary retention.

Temporary solutions for urinary retention

If you have problems emptying your bladder, there are things you can do yourself to help. 
1. Position yourself properly on the toilet to ease urinary retention
Always make sure you are in a proper position that makes bladder emptying easier and that you sit comfortably on the toilet with good support for your feet. Double or triple voiding may help you with bladder emptying. This is done by first sitting down and voiding normally. Then, after finishing, you stand up and sit back down again. This can encourage more urine to pass through. 
2. Use a catheter for urinary retention
Sometimes your doctor will decide a catheter is the optimum urinary retention treatment to empty to fully empty the bladder completely. A catheter is a very thin and flexible tube made of plastic that is carefully passed through the urethra and into the bladder to help empty it.
If you self-catheterize, the general recommendation is to empty the bladder at regular intervals. You can be taught to self-catheterize by your doctor or nurse. It’s a fairly simple process, and easy to keep private at work or in other social situations as the single-use catheters are small enough to put in your pocket and easy to dispose of after use. 
What else? Managing urinary retention
Make sure to have regular bowel movements to avoid constipation. Sometimes the obstruction can be treated with medications, if not, surgery can be another option. Using incontinence pads  or other underwear solutions to catch leaks and protect your clothing is another thing you can easily do on your own.
If you are struggling with urinary retention , be sure to speak to a medical professional to help ease your symptoms. In the meantime, take a look at our incontinence products for women and men  designed to help manage bladder leakage.