Frequent urination is the need to urinate more than you normally would. The urge can strike suddenly and can cause you to lose control of your bladder. It can feel uncomfortable, like your bladder is extremely full.

Frequent urination is also referred to as having an overactive bladder. Urologists, who are doctors that specialize in the urinary system, consider going more than 8 times in 24 hours to be frequent urination.

The key to treating frequent urination is addressing the underlying cause.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common cause of frequent urination. This happens when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra.

It’s estimated that of women will experience at least one UTI in their lives. One-third of women will experience one before the age of 24 that’s severe enough to require antibiotics.

Women are more at risk for a UTI than men because their urethras are shorter. Bacteria have less distance to travel before they can infect the urinary tract and cause symptoms.

Common risk factors for a UTI include:

  • not staying hydrated
  • holding your urine for prolonged periods of time or not fully emptying your bladder
  • vaginal irritation and inflammation
  • improper wiping (going from back to front) after using the toilet, which will expose the urethra to E. coli bacteria
  • sexual intercourse, which can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract
  • changes in the structure of the urinary system, such as during pregnancy
  • chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, that affect the immune system

An overactive bladder (OAB) is another common cause of frequent urination. According to the American Urological Association, an estimated 33 million Americans have an overactive bladder. This affects about 40 percent of all women in the United States.

Overactive bladder is usually a collection of symptoms that can lead to frequent urination as a result of overactive bladder muscles. Common symptoms include:

  • urinary urgency, or the sudden urge to urinate, sometimes resulting in leaks
  • nocturia, or the need to urinate at least two or more times a night
  • urinary frequency, or having to go at least eight times a day

There are several causes of an overactive bladder. These can include:

Other causes of frequent urination can include:

Excessive caffeine, nicotine, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol may also irritate the bladder walls and can worsen frequent urination symptoms.

Your symptoms will depend on the cause of your frequent urination.

UTI symptoms

UTIs can develop anywhere in the urinary system, but they commonly occur in the bladder and urethra.

The symptoms of a UTI include:

OAB symptoms

Frequent urination is the primary symptom of an overactive bladder. However, you shouldn’t feel ill or have any pain with urination.

Other symptoms include:

  • inability to postpone the need to urinate
  • leaking urine
  • nocturia

Your doctor will perform tests to determine what’s causing you to urinate frequently. They’ll ask you some questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • How often do you urinate?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Do you have any unexpected leaking of urine and in what situations?

Your doctor will most likely ask you for a urine sample to check for infection, blood, or other abnormal findings such as protein or sugar.

Your doctor will also conduct an exam of your abdomen and pelvis. This will likely include a pelvic exam and evaluation of your urethra and vagina.

Other tests that can be useful include:

  • Bladder scan. This is an ultrasound done on your bladder after you’ve urinated to see how much urine is left behind.
  • Cystoscopy. Using a lighted instrument, the doctor can take a closer look inside the bladder as well as take tissue samples if necessary.
  • Urinary testing (urodynamic testing). This involves a variety of tests that look to see how well the urinary system is working.

Treatment for frequent urination depends on the cause. Your doctor will first treat any primary disease responsible for frequent urination. If an infection is at fault, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for getting rid of the infection.

Medications that control the muscle spasms in the bladder can help reduce urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control.

Your doctor also may suggest doing pelvic exercises, such as Kegels or bladder retraining exercises, to help delay urination.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of healing that’s been used to treat illness for centuries. A common use is for urinary conditions such as OAB and urinary incontinence.

Currently there’s no consistent data suggesting that acupuncture is a reliable treatment option for urinary conditions. A recent review of a wide variety of studies on acupuncture and incontinence failed to show its effectiveness.

According to the British Medical Journal, a scientific review of acupuncture studies and overactive bladder is now underway. It’ll evaluate how acupuncture compares to other treatments and how acupuncture compares to no treatment at all.

You can take some steps to reduce your likelihood of developing frequent urination.

You can also avoid certain foods and drinks closer to nighttime that are known to increase the likelihood of nocturia. Examples include:

  • alcohol
  • citrus juice
  • coffee
  • tea
  • tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • artificial sweeteners

Constipation can also contribute to frequent urination by putting pressure on the bladder, so increase your fiber intake to maintain regularity.

Talk to your doctor about the proper way to perform Kegel pelvic exercises. These can strengthen your pelvic floor.

Also, ask your doctor about physical therapy that targets your pelvic muscles. These go beyond Kegel exercises to broadly strengthen the muscles that support your bladder and pelvic organs.

If you develop symptoms of frequent urination, it’s important to know the cause. See your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.