Urinary Obstruction

What is urinary obstruction?

Urinary obstruction is a blockage of the flow of urine out of the body. The blockage slows or stops the flow of urine, which can put pressure on the kidneys. The pressure can make it harder for the kidneys to do their job. Any part of the urinary tract may become blocked. This includes the:

  • kidneys, which make urine
  • ureters, which are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
  • bladder, which stores urine
  • urethra, which is the tube that drains urine from the bladder.

How does it occur?

There are many possible causes of the blockage. Many of the causes depend on your age and whether you are male or female.


In infant males and young boys the cause usually has something to do with a urinary system that has not developed normally. Examples of abnormal development are:

  • urethral atresia, which means that the urethra has not fully developed
  • meatal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the opening of the urethra at the tip of the penis
  • problems with the valves in the tube connecting the bladder with the kidneys.

Baby girls more commonly get reflux, which means that their urine is flowing backward. This problem is called vesicoureteral reflux.


Both boys and girls can have urinary obstruction from a blood clot in the urinary tract.


In adult men and women, kidney stones are a common cause of urinary obstruction. Tumors and cancers of the urinary system may also cause obstruction.


In older adult men, the prostate gland may get too big and cause a blockage. This problem is called benign prostatic hypertrophy or an enlarged prostate. The prostate surrounds the urethra. When it gets too big, it makes it harder for a man to pass urine. Sometimes the prostate may become cancerous. The cancer may press on the urethra and block the flow of urine.


In older women, tumors and cancers of the female organs can cause urinary obstruction.


Some medicines can also lead to urinary obstruction. Some examples are cold medicines, allergy medicines, and some antidepressants.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is crampy pain, sometimes severe, in your abdomen, side, or back. However, some types of obstruction may not cause much pain.


You may keep feeling a strong need to urinate but have trouble urinating. You may not be able to urinate at all, or the flow of urine may be less than usual. The flow may stop and start and you may not be able to control it. You may have dribbling after urinating.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your pain and history of urinary problems. He or she will examine you and test your urine for blood, protein, sugar, and signs of infection. You may have the following tests of your abdomen to help find where the blockage is:

  • X-ray
  • ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI.

How is it treated?

The treatment for urinary obstruction depends on its cause. The goal is get urine flowing normally again. This will relieve pain and prevent damage to the kidneys and urinary tract.


If the obstruction is between the kidney and the bladder (a kidney stone is a good example of such an obstruction), then a drainage tube called a stent may be put in the ureter to drain urine from the kidney until the obstruction is relieved with further treatment.


If the obstruction is between the bladder and the place where urine leaves your body, a catheter is usually put into the urethra to drain urine from the bladder. A catheter is a thin, hollow, flexible tube. The catheter is usually left in place for at least a couple of days to prevent the problem from happening again, It also allows the bladder to return to normal after having been stretched out from holding more than the normal amount of urine because of the blockage.

How long will the effects last?

How long it takes to relieve the problem depends on the cause. For example, if the problem is caused by a medicine, then it will last until the medicine is out of your system. If it is caused by a kidney stone, then the obstruction will last until the stone is passed or removed. If the blockage is caused by a tumor, then it will last until the tumor is removed or treated to make it smaller.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

How can I help prevent urinary obstruction?

Drinking plenty of water will dilute your urine so kidney stones are less likely to form. Men, especially as they get older, should have an annual exam of the prostate and blood tests to measure the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA). The PSA level goes up as the prostate enlarges or becomes cancerous.


Some causes of urinary obstruction cannot be prevented.


Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


HIA File URIN5364.HTM Release 11.0/2008

© 2008 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

2008 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.