Acute urinary retention (AUR) is a common urological emergency, characterized by a sudden and painful inability to pass urine. There is high variability within and among countries in its management, which can be explained not only by differences in access to care but also by a lack of harmonization and consensus on the best way to proceed. Immediate treatment consists of bladder decompression, usually by a urethral catheter, although a suprapubic catheter offers several advantages not often exploited by urologists. Until recently, secondary management consisted almost exclusively of prostatic surgery within a few days (emergency surgery) or a few weeks (elective surgery) after a first AUR episode. The greater morbidity and mortality associated with emergency surgery, and the potential morbidity associated with prolonged catheterization, has led to the increasing use of a trial without catheter; this involves catheter removal after 1-3 days, allowing the patient to void in 23-40% of cases, and surgery, if needed, at a later stage. Alpha1-adrenergic blockers given before catheter removal improve the chances of success. A high prostate-specific antigen level and postvoid residual urine volume, and response to alfuzosin treatment after a first AUR episode managed conservatively, may help to identify patients at risk of an unfavourable outcome.