Is It Dangerous to Hold Your Urine?

When a bathroom isn't available, there are some tricks to hold your pee

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Going to the bathroom is a necessity for everyone, but that doesn’t mean a place “to go" is always available. In most cases, holding it for a short time when you feel the urge to go is not going to be harmful. However, holding pee for a long period of time and ignoring the urge to go might increase the risk of certain problems, such as urinary tract infections. For those reasons, it's important to not hold it for any longer than is necessary.

This can be a challenge when there’s not a private or sanitary place to urinate, but emptying the bladder on a regular basis is part of good health and can help avoid discomfort.

How Long Can You Hold Your Pee?

While the human bladder typically holds between 1.5 and 2 cups of fluid, the perception of feeling full varies from person to person. How fast the bladder fills depends on a number of factors, and therefore, there’s no hard and fast rule about how long people can go between bathroom trips. In most cases, however, people can go for 3 to 4 hours between bathroom visits.

Of course, this will also vary based on how much a person is drinking; taking in a lot of water over a short period of time or drinking beverages with caffeine might cause a greater urge to pee.

Some people have an issue where they are using the bathroom often, and only actually voiding a little at a time. This could be due to a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection, especially if there’s discomfort while urinating.

When there are problems going to the bathroom too much or being uncomfortable, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out a disease or condition that could be causing the problem.

For some people, ignoring the urge to urinate for a time could be part of a process of bladder retraining. If there’s no reason found for the frequent urination, a physician might recommend holding the pee to retrain the bladder and reduce bathroom visits.

In general, this might include waiting for at least 15 minutes when the urge to pee hits, to see if it’s truly necessary to go right away or if it can wait.

Health Risks of Holding Urine

In most cases, holding in urine for a short period of time until there’s a time and place to go is not going to be harmful. However, holding in urine is associated with a small increased risk of urinary tract infections. This is because the urine standing in the bladder can increase the bacteria growth there. Taking in a lot of fluids and voiding them regularly is the best way to avoid this bacteria overgrowth, which may lead to an infection. 

When It Is Finally Time to Go

It is important, once it is time to go to the bathroom, to completely empty the bladder. Take it slow and wait an extra minute or so after having the sensation of being “done.” There might still be more urine in the bladder and it’s better to make sure everything is out, otherwise there will be another bathroom run a few minutes later.

Things That Might Help You Hold Your Pee

For those times when you need to know how to hold your pee for a short period of time, use one or more of these distraction techniques:

  1. Move into a comfortable position. Putting pressure on the abdomen and especially the bladder may make the sensation of needing to go even more uncomfortable. Try sitting or standing with legs crossed or pressed together and keeping the back straight in order to reduce pressure on the bladder. Pushing on or leaning against something that compresses the belly may increase the discomfort. 
  1. Change your temperature. Being too hot or too cold may make some people feel like they have to go to the bathroom. In most cases, being too cold is what increases that feeling of urgency to use the bathroom, so warming up with a blanket may help for a time.
  2. Think about the bladder being closed off. To prevent leaking, it may help to imagine that nothing can come down the urethra. Squeezing the muscles in that area may help avoid any urine leaking out. Practicing isolating these muscles and squeezing them when not in urgent need of a bathroom can help in the longer term when dealing with the need to go to the bathroom without a toilet readily available.
  1. Stay still. Bouncing, jiggling, jumping, or shaking could increase the sensation of having to go to the bathroom and may even cause leakage for some people. Decreasing movement could help reduce the feeling of a full bladder.
  2. Mediation or visualization. Practicing meditation, visualization, or deep breathing may help in distracting from the discomfort of a full bladder for a short time.
  3. Mental distractions. Talking to someone, playing a game, or reading might all help in taking the mind off the feeling of having a full bladder.

Things That Won’t Help

Certain things may distract from a full bladder and others might make for an even more uncomfortable time:

  1. Drinking more. If the bladder is already full and there’s nowhere to go, drinking even more fluid is only going to make the problem worse.
  2. Letting out a little pee. Trying to pee only a little likely won’t work and might backfire because once the stream starts it’s difficult to stop it. Don’t start peeing until the bladder can be fully emptied.
  3. Moving around. Bouncing, jiggling, jumping, or shaking could increase the sensation of having to go to the bathroom. Staying still could help reduce the feeling of a full bladder.
  4. Caffeine. Drinks that contain caffeine can also irritate the bladder and increase the urge to go to the bathroom, so those should be avoided.
  5. Coughing, sneezing, and laughing. When the bladder is full, a sneeze or a laugh could make the situation more uncomfortable or even cause some leaking.
  6. Swimming or bathing. Warm water or going into a pool could increase the sensation of needing to use a toilet and it might be more difficult to hold in the urine.

The Pelvic Floor and Kegel Exercises

An important aspect of good bladder health is the strength of the pelvic floor. The muscles in the pelvic floor are important in reducing symptoms of incontinence and in being able to go longer between trips to the bathroom. Learning how to isolate those muscles and exercise them to make them stronger can be an important part of bladder retraining.

The physicians that might be involved in treating women with pelvic floor disorders are urogynecologists and urologists. Bladder retraining, pelvic floor exercises, biofeedback, and medication might all be used to help treat frequent urination.

Changes in Bladder Function With Age

There’s a perception that bladder problems are inevitable as people age, but this is not the case. While there are some small changes in bladder function that come with aging, frequent urination, pain when urinating, and leaking urine are not typical. In some cases, making some adjustments to bladder habits can help compensate for the changes that occur in bladder health with age. However, extreme discomfort or difficulty in urinating should be discussed with a physician to make sure there’s not a more serious condition that’s causing the symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

While holding in urine isn’t necessarily a health risk, it’s best to have healthy bladder habits and to consider bathroom accessibility when drinking fluids. Staying hydrated is important, but being uncomfortable because there’s no bathroom in sight is also a consideration when taking in fluids during the day.

For those who find that the bladder feels really full even though there’s not much in it, it could be time to seek help to make sure there’s not an underlying medical condition. For some, retraining the bladder by going less or doing some pelvic floor exercises may help in being able to go longer between bathroom breaks.

Sources:

Hanno PM, Burks DA, Clemens JQ, et al. Interstitial Cystitis Guidelines Panel of the American Urological Association Education and Research, Inc. AUA guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. J Urol. 2011 Jun; 185:2162-2170.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "The Urinary Tract & How It Works.” National Institutes of Health. Jan 2014.

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