When You’ve ‘Gotta Go,’ Go! The Facts About Why Holding Your Pee for Too Long Is a Bad Idea
Jessica Lubahn 9 min read
You're at your kid's soccer game, and you’ve gotta go.
In fact, you’ve had to pee for the last hour, but you don't want to miss a second of the game. Plus, the trek to the bathroom seems at least a mile long. So you tighten that sphincter and keep right on cheering.
Is it bad to hold your pee?
We take a close-up look at what happens in your body when you hold your urine if holding your pee causes incontinence, and what to do when you absolutely have to hold your pee.
Table of Contents
- Is It Dangerous to Hold Your Pee?
- Does Holding Your Pee Cause Incontinence?
- How Much Urine Can Your Bladder Hold?
- What Happens Inside Your Body When You Hold Your Pee?
- 7 Possible Side Effects of Holding Your Pee
- What to Do When You’ve Just Gotta Hold It
- ONDR: Incontinence Undies for Peace of Mind
Is It Dangerous to Hold Your Pee?
Yes and no.
While holding your pee occasionally shouldn't cause problems, regularly failing to urinate when the urge hits may lead to complications.
Some possible side effects of holding your pee include:
- Urinary incontinence
- Enlarged prostate
- Overstretched bladder
- Urinary tract infection
- Kidney stones
- Pelvic floor damage
- Ruptured bladder
The important thing to remember is if you feel like you need to pee, do it.
Don't just let your urine build up and build up. Don't wait to finish whatever you’re doing and try to make peeing something you only do out of convenience. When your bladder starts giving you warning signs that it’s full, stop what you’re doing and pee.
Because if you don't, over time, ignoring your bladder’s urges can set you up for urinary incontinence.
Does Holding Your Pee Cause Incontinence?
In and of itself, holding your pee does not cause incontinence.
But here’s the deal. Over time, holding your urine for too long can cause incontinence. The reason is that holding your pee for long periods puts excessive strain on your bladder muscles. It causes those muscles to become weak, making it difficult to restrain your urge to pee.
How Much Urine Can Your Bladder Hold?
A healthy, full-grown bladder can hold up to 2 cups of urine (that’s 16 ounces). Sounds like a lot, right? But if you're on your second cup of coffee without a bathroom in sight, you may be in trouble.
An 8-year-old’s bladder can generally hold around 10 ounces, while a child under 2 years old has a bladder capacity of around 4 ounces.
What Happens Inside Your Body When You Hold Your Pee?
The bladder is pretty complex. Here’s the short version of what goes on inside your bladder when you hold your urine.
When you feel the urge to pee, it's not just because your bladder is full. The process involves a host of muscles, nerves, and organs all working together to tell your brain it’s time to go.
When your pee is at about half capacity, the nerves in your bladder turn on. They tell your brain to give your bladder the urge to pee. Your brain then signals your bladder to wait until just the right time. Holding your pee means you’re consciously fighting the signal to urinate.
The signals to pee differ according to the:
- How much liquid your bladder is holding; and
- Time of day
For example, the signals to pee are less intense at night. This is what allows your body to get a good night’s sleep instead of getting up to go every few hours.
Sometimes the signals become more frequent or intense for reasons such as:
- Underlying medical condition
- Food sensitivities
- Pelvic floor weakness
- Pregnancy; or
7 Possible Side Effects of Holding Your Pee
#1: Urinary Incontinence
Your bladder is a muscular organ and is supposed to be nice and pliable. It should be relaxed, so it can easily expand to hold your pee.
But when you're constantly holding your urine back, your bladder muscle becomes super strong and hardened, just like any other muscle in your body. It becomes so stiff that it's no longer able to expand. At this point, your bladder winds up working so hard to keep the pee in — that you can eventually become unable to let it out.
Normally, when you have to pee, your sphincter muscle contracts, allowing your bladder to relax. But if this process becomes disorganized by you trying to withhold your pee, you can functionally obstruct your bladder.
Since your bladder becomes less stable, you begin to sense your urine at lower volumes. Your bladder will contract when you don’t want it to, making you feel like you’ve got to go, and you’ve got to go NOW.
In other words, you cause yourself to develop an overactive bladder, otherwise known as urinary incontinence.
When you hold your pee, you have to keep your pelvic and bladder muscles tightly clenched.
And if you frequently ignore the urge to urinate and are regularly clenching those muscles, you may begin to feel pain or discomfort in your kidneys or bladder. And when you finally do make it to a bathroom, relaxing those muscles to let your pee out may be painful as well.
Often your pelvic muscles will involuntarily contract after being held so tightly may also, which can cause severe pelvic cramps.
#3: Overstretched Bladder
Over time, regularly holding in urine can cause your bladder to stretch out of its normal shape.
This can make it difficult or even impossible for your bladder to effectively contract and release your pee.
In extreme cases, someone with a stretched bladder may even need to use a catheter to properly release their urine.
#4: Urinary Tract Infection
A huge problem with holding your pee is the potential for urinary tract infection. UTIs may result from bacteria that grow when urine stays too long inside your bladder.
You may experience urinary tract infection symptoms such as:
- Frequent urination
- Pain or burning while peeing
- Feeling like you need to go even though your bladder is empty
- Blood in your urine
- Pressure or cramping in your groin or lower abdomen
Most doctors will tell you to avoid holding your pee for extended periods, especially if you have a history of frequent UTIs.
#5: Kidney Stones
Failing to pee when your body is giving you the urge can also lead to kidney stones.
This may especially be a problem if you have a high content of minerals such as calcium oxalate or uric acid in your urine.
Some symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Sharp, severe pain, usually in the side of your abdomen
- Sharp pain in the lower abdomen, typically on one side
- A burning sensation or pain while peeing
- Frequent urination
- Feeling like you're not getting all your pee out or only being able to pee in small amounts
- Pee that is brown, red, or pink
- Smelly or cloudy urine
#6: Pelvic Floor Damage
Not taking the time to pee when your body is giving you the signal, can also damage your pelvic floor muscles, particularly your urethral sphincter. This is the muscle that keeps your urethra closed and prevents pee from leaking out.
Damaging your urethral sphincter may lead to urinary incontinence.
#7: Ruptured Bladder
While it’s rare, it is feasible for your bladder to burst if you hold in your pee for too long. When this happens, urine fills the abdomen and surgery may be needed to fix the problem.
Generally, however, the bladder will overpower the muscles holding your urine in, causing the person to wet their pants.
What To Do When You’ve Just Gotta Hold It
While holding your pee is definitely not the best idea, there are times you just aren’t able to avoid it.
Here are a few tips on what to do during those tense moments when you’ve absolutely got to go:
- Change position. Any pressure on your stomach or bladder will only intensify the sensation of needing to go. Try standing with your legs crossed or sitting with your back straight to reduce the pressure on your bladder.
- Imagine your bladder being closed off. Isolate your bladder muscles and squeeze, and imagine that nothing can pass through your urethra. This should stop any pee from leaking out.
- Try not to move. Any extra jiggling, bouncing, jumping, or shaking will only increase the sensation of having to pee and may even cause leaks.
- Try meditation. Practice visualizing, meditating, or deep breathing to distract you from the painful feeling of a full bladder.
- Change your body's temperature, if possible. Often, being too cold increases the feeling of urgency to use the bathroom. Try snuggling under a blanket or cranking the heater in your car.
- Distract your brain. Try playing a game on your phone, reading a book, or talking to someone to keep your mind off your bladder.
ONDR: Incontinence Undies for Peace of Mind
If you're suffering from urinary incontinence, you know how awkward and embarrassing it can be.
ONDRwear incontinence underwear is the perfect solution.
Created by a urologist, Dr. Jessica Lubahn, ONDRwear is the peace of mind from the embarrassment of incontinence.
Not only is ONDRwear super comfy, but it is also:
- Naturally odor-free; and
- Machine washable
And it comes in all your favorite styles for both women and men, including
- Boxer brief
- High-waisted brief; and
- Boy short
ONDRwear isn’t like your traditional incontinence products. So you can say “goodbye” to the sensation of wearing a bulky diaper and “hello” to incontinence underwear that feels like your normal undies.
Plus, you can wear them under just about any clothing.
Feel more confident while dealing with incontinence with ONDR!
The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.