Oliguria: Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian is a real estate investor, MBA, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

As convenient as it might seem to rarely have to go to the bathroom, there is a condition that actually causes this to happen. Oliguria is when a person produces an abnormally low amount of urine, and while this may not sound like big deal, it is, in fact, a very serious medical problem. In this lesson we will look at the definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment of oliguria.


Joe has noticed in the last day that he has gone to the bathroom only once, and is barely passing any urine. He is not aware of it yet, but what he is experiencing is called oliguria. Let's take a look at what exactly oliguria is, along with the common causes, symptoms, and treatment of this condition.

Oliguria is simply defined as a urine output of less than 400 milliliters (mL), in an adult, during a 24-hour period. In children, it is defined by the ratio of urine output over time to the child's body weight. Less than 1 mL per kilogram (kg) of body weight per hour in infants, or less than 0.5 mL per kg/per hour in children, is considered oliguria.


Oliguria is commonly caused by other underlying health issues. Lets's look at Joe's situation again. Joe may not be drinking enough water, resulting in fluid loss through dehydration. Fluid loss causing oliguria can also be the result of vomiting or diarrhea. Severe burns may also interfere with the production of urine.

Since urine is produced in the kidneys, just about any kidney-related problem can cause oliguria. Renal failure is one possible cause, and any blockage along the urinary tract will impact Joe's ability to void his bladder. The presence of medication such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen/aspirin), or antibiotics such as penicillin or ciprofloxacin, in large amounts, can cause nephritis. Nephritis is an inflammation of the kidneys which can lead to oliguria.


Aside from the lack of urine output being the primary symptom, other symptoms may be present in cases of oliguria. A person may experience a rapid heartbeat, or dry skin, in instances of fluid loss. If the lack of urine is due to a kidney infection, a person may have symptoms such as rash, fever, or enlarged and palpable kidneys.

If the underlying problem is a physical blockage, this can inhibit the bladder from voiding normally. Symptoms of a blockage may include dribbling, indicating a poor urinary stream. The bladder may also be enlarged and there may be signs of urethral trauma.

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