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    Urination - difficulty with flow

    Delayed urination; Hesitancy; Difficulty initiating urination

    Difficulty starting or maintaining a urine stream is called urinary hesitancy.


    Urinary hesitancy affects people of all ages and occurs in both sexes. However, it is most common in older men with an enlarged prostate gland.

    Urinary hesitancy usually comes on slowly over time. You may not notice it until you are unable to urinate (urinary retention), and your bladder swells and becomes uncomfortable.

    Almost all older men have some trouble with:

    • Dribbling
    • Starting urination
    • Weaker urine stream


    Urinary hesitancy can be caused by:

    • Drugs (some cold remedies, some nasal decongestants, tricyclic antidepressants, and anticholinergic drugs used for incontinence)
    • Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)
    • Inflammation or infection of the prostate gland (prostatitis)
    • Nervous system disorders
    • Recent surgery (postoperative retention)
    • Scar tissue (stricture)
    • Shy or bashful bladder syndrome (being unable to urinate when another person is in the room)
    • Urinary tract infection

    Home Care

    • Monitor, record, and report your urination patterns to your doctor.
    • Apply heat to your lower abdomen (below your belly button and above the pubic bone). This is where the bladder sits. The heat relaxes muscles and aids urination.
    • Massage or place light pressure over your bladder to stimulate emptying.
    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • For infections, you will need antibiotics from your doctor. Symptoms of a possible infection include burning or pain with urination, frequent urination, cloudy urine, and a sense of urgency (strong, sudden urge to urinate).
    • Pay close attention to any medicines or supplements you take.

    See also:

    • Enlarged prostate - after care
    • Prostatitis - bacterial - self-care

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your doctor for urinary hesitancy, dribbling, or a weak urine stream if you have not already been evaluated for these problems.

    Call your doctor right away if:

    • You have a fever, vomiting, side or back pain, shaking chills, or are passing little urine for 1 to 2 days
    • You have blood in your urine, cloudy urine, a frequent or urgent need to urinate, or a discharge from the penis or vagina
    • You are unable to pass urine

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    Your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical examination, paying special attention to your pelvis, rectum, abdomen, and lower back.

    Medical history questions may include:

    • How long have you had difficulty starting your urine flow?
    • Did it come on over time or suddenly?
    • Is it worse in the morning or at night?
    • Is the force of your urine flow decreased?
    • Do you have dribbling?
    • Do you ever leak urine uncontrollably?
    • Does anything help? Like heat or massage to the lower abdomen?
    • Does anything make the hesitancy worse?
    • Do you have other symptoms like fever, pain or burning when you urinate, cloudy or bloody urine, back or side pain?
    • Do you have a history of bladder or kidney infection? Prostate enlargement or infection? Nervous system disorders?
    • Have you had a recent injury, surgery, or procedure on the pelvis or bladder?
    • What medications do you take, including over-the-counter drugs?

    Tests that may be performed include:

    • Catheterization of the bladder to determine residual urine volume and to get urine for culture (a catheterized urine specimen)
    • Cystometrography
    • Transrectal ultrasound of the prostate (similar to a transvaginal ultrasound)
    • Urethral swab for culture
    • Urinalysis and culture
    • Voiding cystourethrogram

    Treatment for urinary hesitancy depends on the cause. Often, medications such as alpha-blockers can relieve the symptoms. If you have a bacterial infection, your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics. You may need surgery to relieve a prostate obstruction (see TURP).


    Gerber GS, Brendler CB. Evaluation of the urologic patient: History, physical examination, and urinalysis. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 3.

    Landry DW, Bazari H. Approach to the patient with renal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 116.

    Zeidel ML. Obstructive uropathy. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 125.


    • Female urinary tract


    • Male urinary tract


      • Female urinary tract


      • Male urinary tract


      A Closer Look

        Self Care

          Tests for Urination - difficulty with flow

            Review Date: 9/16/2011

            Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Scott Miller, MD, Urologist in private practice in Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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