Urinary Retention (Female)

Urinary retention means you are having trouble urinating. In some cases you may not be able to pass any urine at all. This condition occurs even though your bladder is full.


For girls and women, the most common cause of urinary retention is a bladder infection. Certain medicines can also cause this problem. So can changes in the body, such as uterine prolapse and severe constipation.


Some people have no symptoms. For others, common symptoms include:

  • Bladder or lower-belly pain or fullness

  • Belly swelling

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Back pain

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling that the bladder is still full after urinating

  • Not being able to control the release of urine (incontinence)


This condition is treated by putting a tube (catheter) into the bladder to drain the urine. This gives relief right away. The catheter may need to stay in place for a few days. The catheter has a balloon on the tip. This is inflated after the catheter is put in the bladder. This prevents the catheter from falling out.

Cross section of female pelvis showing foley catheter inserted into bladder.

Home care

  • If you were given antibiotics to treat a bladder infection, take them until they are used up. Or take them until your healthcare provider tells you to stop. It's important to finish the antibiotics even if you feel better. This is to make sure your infection has cleared.

  • If a catheter was left in place, it's important to keep bacteria from getting into the collection bag. Don't disconnect the catheter from the collection bag.

  • Use a leg band to secure the drainage tube, so it does not pull on the catheter. Drain the collection bag when it becomes full using the drain spout at the bottom of the bag.

  • Don't pull on or try to take out your catheter. This will harm your urethra. The catheter must be removed by a healthcare provider.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

If a catheter was left in place, it can often be removed in 3 to 7 days. Some conditions require that the catheter stays in longer. Your provider will tell you when to come back to have the catheter removed.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Bladder or lower-belly pain or fullness

  • Belly swelling, nausea, vomiting, or back pain

  • Blood or urine leakage around the catheter

  • Bloody urine coming from the catheter (if a new symptom)

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

  • Confusion or change in normal level of alertness

  • If a catheter was left in place, see your provider if the catheter:

    • Falls out

    • Stops draining for 6 hours

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