Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

COPD Health Center

Font Size

Inhaled Drugs for COPD Linked to Urinary Problem

Study Shows Inhaled Anticholinergic Drugs May Increase Risk for Acute Urinary Retention
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 23, 2011 -- Men who take certain kinds of inhaled medications to treat chronic lung disease are more likely to experience a medical emergency called acute urinary retention than those who don't take the drugs, a new study shows.

Acute urinary retention is feeling the pressure, pain, and urgency of a having full bladder without being able to relieve it by urination. If left untreated, urine can back up into the kidneys, causing infections and even organ damage.

The study, of more than a half million older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), found that men taking inhaled anticholinergic medications, which are sold under the brand names Atrovent, Combivent, and Spiriva, had about a 40% higher risk of acute urinary retention compared to those who were not taking these kinds of medications.

"The thing is that often people don't associate [the inhaled drugs] with a problem peeing," says study researcher Anne Stephenson, MD, MPH, a pulmonologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "Not only does the patient not necessarily make that connection, but I think clinicians don't make the connection because there's a belief, not necessarily rightly, that the drugs aren't systemically absorbed."

The risk was higher in men who had just started on the drugs, those who had enlarged prostates, and those using both short- and long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators at the same time.

There was no increased risk of urinary retention observed in women.

The study is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"It's impressive," says Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study. "I thought it was a really well done, complicated study. And it certainly reminds us to be attentive in these situations and for patients to be attentive."

Experts, including the study's authors, are careful to note that the study was only able to show an association between the drugs and the risk of urinary retention but that it couldn't prove that the drugs caused the problem.

However, the fact that the increased risk was seen in those who were newly treated and those on more than one kind of anticholinergic medication makes for a strong case.

"The whole thing makes sense," Kavaler says. "Activation of acetylcholine helps you urinate, so if you block that, it relaxes the bladder. So it makes your bladder lazy."

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

man talking to his doctor
Check your COPD risk.
woman using inhaler
What is the top cause of this condition?
chest x-ray
7 early warning signs.
Senior couple stretching
10 exercises for people With COPD.
Bronchitis Overview
Senior woman blowing dandelion
Living With Copd
human lung graphic
Energy Boosting Foods
red heart and ekg
Living With Copd
Senior couple stretching