Health Information

Urination - difficulty with flow

Urination - difficulty with flow


Delayed urination; Hesitancy; Difficulty initiating urination

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

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Considerations

    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 most often develops slowly over time. You may not notice it until you are unable to urinate (called urinary retention). This causes swelling and discomfort in your bladder.

  • Causes

    The most common cause of urinary hesitancy in older men is an enlarged prostate. Almost all older men have some trouble with dribbling, weak urine stream, and starting urination.

    Another common cause is infection of the prostate or urinary tract. Symptoms of a possible infection include:

    • Burning or pain with urination
    • Frequent urination
    • Cloudy urine
    • Sense of urgency (strong, sudden urge to urinate)

    The problem can also be caused by:

    • Some medicines (such as remedies for colds and allergies, tricyclic antidepressants, some drugs used for incontinence, and some vitamins and supplements)
    • Nervous system disorders
    • Side effects of surgery
    • Scar tissue (stricture) in the tube leading from the bladder
  • Home Care

    Steps you can take to care for yourself include:

    • Keep track of your urination patterns and bring the report 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 help the bladder empty.
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your doctor if you notice urinary hesitancy, dribbling, or a weak urine stream.

    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 do an exam to look at your pelvis, rectum, abdomen, and lower back.

    Your doctor may ask questions such as:

    • How long have you had the problem and when did it start?
    • Is it worse in the morning or at night?
    • Is the force of your urine flow decreased? Do you have dribbling or leaking urine?
    • Does anything help or make the problem worse?
    • Do you have symptoms of an infection?
    • Have you had other medical conditions or surgeries that could affect your urine flow?
    • What medicines do you take?

    Tests that may be performed include:

    • Catheterization of the bladder to determine how much urine remains in your bladder after trying to urinate and to get urine for culture (a catheterized urine specimen)
    • Cystometrography
    • Transrectal ultrasound of the prostate
    • Urethral swab for culture
    • Urinalysis and culture
    • Voiding cystourethrogram

    Treatment for urinary hesitancy depends on the cause, and may include:

    • Medicines to relieve the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
    • Antibiotics to treat any infection. Be sure to take all your medicine as directed.
    • Surgery to relieve a prostate blockage (TURP).

Related Information



Gerber GS, Brendler CB. Evaluation of the urologic patient: In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: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.


Review Date: 12/27/2013  

Reviewed By: Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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