Is It Safe to Hold Your Pee?

Medically reviewed by Elaine Luo, MD on February 3, 2017Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on February 3, 2017

How much urine can your bladder hold?

A healthy adult bladder can hold up to 16 ounces, or 2 cups, of urine. This is great news if you’ve only had one cup of coffee, but not so much if you find yourself on cup number three with no restroom in sight.

The bladder capacity for children under the age of 2 is about 4 ounces. For children older than 2, the capacity can be found by dividing their age by 2, then adding 6. For example, an 8-year-old child can typically hold 10 ounces of urine.

Most everyone has held in urine at one time or another. You may have wondered whether holding your pee is healthy. Here’s what you need to know.

Is it safe to hold your pee?

If your urinary system is healthy, holding your pee generally isn’t dangerous. If you’re an adult and your bladder is holding more than 2 cups of urine, you may start to feel uncomfortable.

If you have an overactive bladder, holding your pee can be an important part of bladder training. Regular bladder training may help you develop a more convenient urination schedule.

There isn’t a set guideline for how long you can safely hold your pee. It varies from person to person.

In certain circumstances, holding urine for any length of time can be dangerous. If you have any of the following conditions, holding your urine can increase your risk of infection or kidney disease:

  • enlarged prostate
  • neurogenic bladder
  • kidney disorders
  • urinary retention

Woman who are pregnant are already at an increased risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs). If you’re pregnant, holding your pee can further increase this risk.

Learn more: What home remedies work for an overactive bladder »

What happens to your body when you hold your pee?

When you feel the urge to empty your bladder, the reason behind it isn’t as simple as your bladder filling up with liquid. It’s actually a pretty complex process involving many muscles, organs, and nerves that work together to tell you that it’s time to go.

When your bladder is about half full, it activates the nerves in your bladder. These nerves signal your brain to give you the urge to urinate. The brain then signals the bladder to hold on until it’s time. Holding your pee involves consciously fighting this signal to urinate.

These signals will differ from person to person. They also vary according to your age, how much liquid your bladder contains, and what time of day it is. For example, these signals decrease at night — that way you can get a full night’s rest instead of running to the restroom every few hours!

If these signals pick up, it may be the result of an underlying medical condition. Some people may develop an overactive bladder or have a bladder that’s triggered by stress.

For some women, the urge to urinate more frequently can increase after having children. This results from changes that occur during childbirth, including weakened muscles and nerve stimulation.

Can holding urine cause UTIs?

Simply holding your pee doesn’t cause a UTI. UTIs occur when bacteria make their way into the urinary tract.

If you don’t empty your bladder on a regular basis, the bacteria are more likely to sit and multiply in the bladder. This can lead to a UTI. One study discusses this risk — which can result in infection — but the association hasn’t been proven.

Your risk for a UTI may also be higher if you don’t drink adequate amounts of water. This is because your bladder won’t be full enough to send the signal to urinate. Bacteria that might already be present in the urinary system will then be able to multiply, potentially leading to an infection.

If you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms or think you have a UTI, consult your doctor.

Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • persistent need to urinate
  • burning sensation while peeing
  • strong-smelling urine
  • urine that looks cloudy
  • blood in the urine
  • pelvic pain

Check out: What causes orange urine? »

Other possible complications

Your bladder is a part of your urinary system. It’s connected through the ureters to your kidneys. In rare cases, urine can back up into the kidneys and lead to an infection or kidney damage.

Pre-existing medical conditions, such as an enlarged prostate or a neurogenic bladder from nerve damage, can lead to an involuntary retention of urine. A blockage in the passage of urine or weakened bladder muscles can prevent the bladder from emptying completely.

What if you really need to hold your pee?

When you have to go, you have to go. If you’re able to use the restroom, you should do so.

But if you’ve been advised to do any form of bladder training, or if you’re unable to access a bathroom, here are a few things you can do to take your mind off the urge to urinate:

  • Do a task that will actively engage your brain, such as a game or crossword puzzle.
  • Listen to music.
  • Stay sitting if you are already sitting.
  • Read a book.
  • Scroll through social media on your phone.
  • Keep warm, since being cold can give you the urge to urinate.

The bottom line

In most cases, holding your pee now and then isn’t harmful to your health. If, however, the urge to urinate is affecting your daily life, you should consult your doctor. Holding your pee on a regular basis can increase the risk of UTIs or other complications.

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