Doctors recommend emptying your bladder regularly, about once every three hours. But we all know there are situations when that’s just not possible.
From long haul truckers to politicians holding the house floor, there are many instances when adults find themselves in situations where they need to hold it in.
While delaying nature’s call for an hour or two won’t pose any threat to your health, it’s possible to harm your body by holding pee for too long, or by making a habit of not relieving yourself often enough.
A healthy bladder can hold about 2 cups of urine before it’s considered full. It takes your body 9 to 10 hours to produce 2 cups of urine. That’s about as long as you can wait and still be in the safe zone without the possibility of damaging your organs.
In the worst of circumstances, your bladder may stretch to hold even more than 2 cups of fluid. But if for some reason you’re not physically able to pee, or if you notice that your child is not peeing, you’re right to be concerned.
This article will address these concerns, as well as answer questions about what happens to your body when you can’t use the bathroom.
|Age||Average bladder size||Time to fill bladder|
|Infant (0–12 months)||1–2 ounces||1 hour|
|Toddler (1–3 years)||3–5 ounces||2 hours|
|Child (4–12 years)||7–14 ounces||2–4 hours|
|Adult||16–24 ounces||8–9 hours (2 ounces per hour)|
Your bladder is an expandable organ. The process of emptying your bladder is not unlike a muscle contraction. Two tubes called ureters bring filtered urine down from your kidneys and into your bladder. Once your bladder contains 16–24 ounces of fluid, it’s considered full.
Research tells us that the bladder has a direct line of communication with your brain. Your bladder is full of receptors that tell your brain how full your bladder is.
Basically, there’s an invisible “fill line” in your bladder. When your urine reaches that point, your brain receives a signal that indicates you need to pee. This happens when your bladder is only a quarter of the way full.
When you first feel the urge to pee, your bladder probably has quite some time to go before it’s completely filled up. And when your bladder becomes full, the muscles around it contract to keep urine from leaking out until you’re ready to release it.
Complications and other health problems with your bladder can lead to conditions like incontinence, overactive bladder, and urinary retention. These conditions are more common when you’re over 50 years old.
The dangers of holding your pee are mostly cumulative. Holding in your pee for six hours during that one memorable road trip probably won’t hurt you long-term.
But if you’re constantly ignoring the urge to pee, you may develop complications. In general, you should go when you feel the need to go!
Here are some of the dangers of holding your pee:
- If you don’t empty your bladder often enough, or go a couple of days without emptying it all the way, it can result in a urinary tract infection (UTI).
- If you hold your pee as a matter of habit, your bladder can start to atrophy. Over time, you may develop incontinence.
- When you hold your pee for 10 hours or more, you may develop urinary retention, meaning the muscles in your bladder can’t relax and let you relieve yourself, even when you want to.
- In very rare cases, holding your pee can cause your bladder to burst.
Your chances of dying from holding in pee are very, very low. Some doctors might even say it’s nonexistent. In general, your bladder will release involuntarily long before you’re in physical danger.
In rare scenarios, a person may hold their pee for so long that when it’s time to finally release urine, they aren’t able to do it. This can result in a burst bladder. If your bladder were to burst, you would need medical attention immediately. A burst bladder is a life-threatening condition.
When you hold your urine in for days at a time, you’re exposing your body to harmful bacteria that’s meant to be released. This can lead to a UTI, which can escalate to all sorts of complications, including sepsis. Again, this is the exception, not the rule.
Most people can hold their pee occasionally for several hours at a time and be just fine.
Normal urination frequency varies widely from person to person. It also depends on how much fluid you’re drinking each day.
Infants and children have smaller bladders, so they need to empty their bladders more often. Infants typically produce six to eight wet diapers a day, but can urinate much more than that.
Toddlers may seem like they go even more, especially during toilet training, when they may need to empty their bladders 10 or more times.
Once you’re an adult, visiting the bathroom to pee six to seven times per day is considered average. Going as few as 4 times and as many as 10 times is still within the scope of what’s considered normal.
Medications and certain conditions can affect frequency
Certain medications, such as diuretics for high blood pressure, can cause you to need to urinate more frequently. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, pregnancy, and sickle cell anemia, can also result in having to go more often.
If you haven’t been feeling the need to pee in a while, you may be dehydrated. Dehydration happens when your body loses more fluid than it’s taking in. When too much fluid is lost, your body’s function is affected. Symptoms of dehydration can include:
- infrequent urination
- urine that’s brown or dark yellow
- dry mouth
Sometimes you may want to relieve yourself, but you have trouble doing so. Certain conditions can affect your ability to pee. These conditions include:
If you’re having trouble peeing, you should see a doctor. This is not a symptom you should try to learn to live with.
If your bladder function has been compromised in any way, it could be a symptom of another underlying health problem. Don’t wait a long time to address difficulty peeing. After 36 to 48 hours of symptoms, it’s time to seek a professional diagnosis.
Concerns with young children
It can be harder to know when your child is having difficulty peeing. Especially during the infant or toddler phase, your child can’t communicate with you about what’s going on in their body.
Your pediatrician will probably tell you to count the number of wet diapers your child produces every day. If you’re counting less than 4 wet diapers per day, call your pediatrician.
Pay attention to the color of the urine in your child’s diaper. It should be a clear to light yellow color. Pee that is dark amber or darker could indicate a dehydrated child. Be especially mindful of dehydration for babies and toddlers during the summer months.
Holding in your pee can feel like an emergency. But you’ll be relieved to know that it’s very rare to die of complications from holding in your urine.
As a general rule, empty your bladder whenever the urge strikes. Empty fully every time you go, and try not to rush the process.
There are some medical conditions that can make peeing painful, uncomfortable, or even impossible. If you’re having difficulty peeing, you should see your doctor within a day or two of the onset of symptoms.