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Postpartum urinary retention: Intermittent catheterization may be best



Intermittent catheterization every 6 hours in postpartum women with urinary retention may be a better strategy than extended catheterization over 24 hours, a new prospective, randomized, controlled study suggests.

Patients who were catheterized every 6 hours took significantly less time to reach full relief than those who were catheterized for at least 24 hours (mean 10.2 ± 11.8 hours vs. 26.5 ± 9.0 hours, P < .001, respectively), Israeli researchers found. Their research was released at the Pregnancy Meeting sponsored by the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

“There was no difference in hospital stay or in the rate of positive urine culture after catheter removal,” said ob.gyn. Dana Vitner, MD, of Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, in a presentation at the conference. “Our conclusion is that intermittent catheterization for postpartum urinary retention results in shorter time to resolution with a higher satisfaction rate and no additional complications.”

The true incidence of postpartum urinary retention is unclear, and estimates vary widely, said ob.gyn. and surgeon Lisa Hickman, MD, of the Ohio State University, Columbus, in an interview. “This is likely because many cases of covert urinary retention – when postpartum women are able to urinate but have incomplete emptying – go undiagnosed unless you are screening for it.”

According to Dr. Hickman, risk factors for postpartum urinary retention include operative vaginal births, having an epidural, obstetric anal sphincter injury, episiotomy, large newborns, first-time births, and prolonged induction of labor. Most cases resolve within 72 hours, she said, but they can lead to rare complications such as bladder injury.

For the new study, researchers defined urinary retention at the bladder holding least 150 mL more than 6 hours after vaginal delivery or removal of an in-dwelling catheter after cesarean delivery. “The treatment is catheterization,” Dr. Vitner said. “However, there is no standard protocol.”

From 2020 to 2022, researchers randomly assigned 73 women to the intermittent catheterization group and 74 to continuous catheterization. The average ages in the groups were 27.7 and 29.1 years, respectively (P = .11) and other characteristics such as body mass index, parity, infant birth weight, and mode of delivery were similar.

Most women in the intermittent catheterization group needed just one catheterization to reach resolution (75.3%); 93.2% had resolution after two, and 95.9% reached it after three. All resolved their urinary retention by 48 hours.

In the continuous catheterization group, 90.5% reached resolution at 24 hours, 97.3% at 48 hours, and 100% at 72 hours. Birth satisfaction scores were higher in the intermittent catheterization group (P < .001).

Dr. Hickman, who did not take part in the study, said the findings are helpful. Randomized, controlled trials are “important to get a better understanding of the natural history of this condition and ways to improve how we manage it clinically,” she said. Should intermittent catheterization become routine? “You need to have the staffing and the resources in order to do that, such as a bladder scanner and intermittent catheterization supplies,” Dr. Hickman said. “It can be time-intensive to continue to follow the patients to make sure they are voiding normally. And there may be many hospitals in the country that just don’t have the resources to do this, especially with all the current workforce issues.”

She added that some patients may not want the intermittent approach: “It can be uncomfortable for patients. They’ve just delivered a baby, they are likely experiencing discomfort from their delivery, and their anatomy can be distorted,” she said. “Some patients may say, ‘I would prefer you not insert a catheter into my bladder every few hours.’ They may just want to rest after having a baby.”

The best approach is to let patients make an informed choice, Dr. Hickman said. She recommended that clinicians say something like, “Because of your delivery, you are not able to empty your bladder all the way. This is typically a self-limited problem, meaning that it will likely resolve within a few days. But in the meantime, we need to let your bladder rest so that it can have time to start functioning on its own.” And then, she said, explain the catheterization options.

Dr. Vitner and Dr. Hickman have no disclosures.

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