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Postoperative urinary retention in patients undergoing elective spinal surgery

David Altschul, Andrew Kobets, Jonathan Nakhla, Ajit Jada, Rani Nasser, Merritt D. Kinon, Reza Yassari, and John Houten


Postoperative urinary retention (POUR) is a common problem leading to morbidity and an increased hospital stay. There are limited data regarding its baseline incidence in patients undergoing spinal surgery and the risk factors with which it may be associated. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the incidence of POUR in elective spine surgery patients and determine the factors associated with its occurrence.


The authors retrospectively reviewed the records of patients who had undergone elective spine surgery and had been prospectively monitored for POUR during an 18-month period. Collected data included operative positioning, surgery duration, volume of intraoperative fluid, length of hospital stay, and patient characteristics such as age, sex, and medical comorbidities. Dialysis patients or those with complete urinary retention preoperatively were excluded from analysis.


Of the 397 patients meeting the study inclusion criteria, 35 (8.8%) developed POUR. An increased incidence of POUR was noted in those who underwent posterior lumbar surgery, those with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), those with chronic constipation or prior urinary retention, and those using a patient-controlled analgesia pump postoperatively. An increased incidence of POUR was seen with a longer operative time but not with intraoperative intravenous fluid administration. A significant relationship between the female sex and POUR was noted after controlling for BPH, yet there was no association between POUR and diabetes or intraoperative instrumentation. Postoperative retention significantly prolonged the hospital stay. Three patients developed epidural hematomas necessitating operative reexploration, and while they experienced POUR, they also developed the full constellation of cauda equina syndrome.


Awareness of the risk factors for POUR may be useful in perioperative Foley catheter management and in identifying patients who need particular vigilance when they are due to void postprocedure. A greater understanding of POUR may also prevent longer hospital stays in select at-risk patients. Postoperative retention is rarely caused by a postoperative cauda equina syndrome due to epidural hematoma, which is also associated with saddle anesthesia, leg pain, and weakness, yet the delineation of isolated POUR from this urgent complication is necessary for optimal patient care.