National Continence Helpline

8am - 8pm Monday to Friday AEST Talk to a continence nurse

Unable to urinate

If the person you support isn't able to pass urine, you need to get them medical help straight away from:

  • an emergency ambulance service
  • a hospital emergency department
  • a doctor (if available quickly).



If a person isn't able to pass urine and looks uncomfortable, e.g. moaning, complaining of pain or restless, they need help straight away.

What can you do?

Stay with the person and reassure them that help is coming. This may help to keep them calm, especially if they are uncomfortable and frightened.

What to check?

If the person has a urinary catheter:

  • make sure the catheter or tubing isn't twisted or kinked
  • empty the drainage bag, so you can see if any urine is being passed
  • check if there is urine leaking around the catheter. This will mean some urine is being passed but not into the drainage bag.

If the person wears a continence pad:

  • check if the pad is heavy or wet
  • check if their bedding or clothing is wet
  • check when the pad was last changed. This may tell you when the person passed urine last.

If the person normally sits on the toilet to pass urine:

  • try running the tap while they are sitting on the toilet - sometimes the sound of running water can help the person to pass urine.
  • give the person privacy if it's safe to do so - some people have trouble passing urine in front of others
  • ask other support workers or their family if they have helped the person to the toilet recently.

If the person you support has a spinal injury above T6, make sure you know the signs and symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

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This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.