The cause and natural history of isolated urinary retention in young women

J Urol. 2002 Jan;167(1):151-6.


Purpose: Using a questionnaire mailed to patients we evaluated the course and natural history of urinary retention in women, of which the cause is attributed to electromyography abnormality of the striated urethral sphincter. Previously urinary retention in young women has often been considered to be due to multiple sclerosis or a manifestation of a psychogenic disorder.

Materials and methods: A questionnaire was mailed to 216 women with abnormal sphincter electromyography and urinary retention. Of the 112 responses we analyzed the 91 from those who had been in complete urinary retention.

Results: Mean patient age at the onset of complete retention was 27.7 years (range 10 to 50). No patients had neurological features indicating a cauda equina lesion or central demyelination and none had progressed to features of a general neurological disorder. Mean maximum bladder capacity at the initial episode of complete retention was 1,208 ml. Of the women 65% reported an event that had apparently precipitated urinary retention, most commonly a gynecologic surgical procedure using general anesthesia. Sacral neuromodulation was the only therapeutic intervention that restored voiding.

Conclusions: The concept of an organic cause of urinary retention in otherwise healthy young women has considerable importance in terms of correct management. Neurological investigation in these women does not reveal underlying neurological disease. It is thought that this disorder is due to a primary failure of relaxation of the striated urethral sphincter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urethra / physiopathology
  • Urinary Retention / etiology*
  • Urinary Retention / physiopathology