Frequent urination is the need to urinate more than you normally would. The urge can strike suddenly and cause you to lose control of your bladder. It can feel uncomfortable, like your bladder is extremely full.
Frequent urination is the primary symptom of the condition overactive bladder (OAB), and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are another common cause of frequent urination.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, frequent urination is when you need to go at least 8 times in a 24-hour period.
The key to treating frequent urination is addressing the underlying cause.
Causes of OAB, which can lead to frequent urination, include:
- injuries to areas such as the bladder, spine, and pelvis
- neurological conditions, such as stroke and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- having overweight, which places extra pressure on the bladder
UTIs occur when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra. Common risk factors include:
- older age
- holding your urine for prolonged periods of time or not fully emptying your bladder
- changes in the structure of the urinary system
- chronic medical conditions that affect the immune system
Causes of frequent urination aside from OAB and UTIs include:
- consuming too many beverages
- excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or artificial sweeteners, which may irritate the bladder walls
- diabetes insipidus
- kidney conditions, such as kidney infection and kidney stones
- weakened pelvic floor muscles
- interstitial cystitis, a painful and noninfectious bladder condition
- bladder stones
- bladder cancer
Frequent urination in women
UTIs are more common in people with a vagina than people with a penis. People with a vagina are at a greater risk because the female urethra is shorter. Bacteria have less distance to travel before they can infect the urinary tract and cause symptoms.
UTI risk factors for people with a vagina include:
- vaginal irritation and inflammation
- improper wiping (going from back to front) after using the restroom, which will expose the urethra to E. coli
- sexual intercourse, which can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract (may occur in people with a penis too, but is rare)
Other conditions that can lead to frequent urination include:
- low estrogen levels as a result of menopause
- ovarian cancer
Frequent urination in men
Conditions that affect the prostate may cause frequent urination in people assigned male at birth. These conditions include:
- benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), better known as an enlarged prostate
- prostatitis, an inflammatory condition that’s often caused by bacterial infection
- prostate cancer
What’s considered a normal urinary frequency can vary by person. Some people naturally need to go more or less often than others. That said, experts typically consider urinating at least 8 times a day to be frequent urination.
Any other symptoms you have will depend on the cause of your frequent urination.
If you have OAB
In addition to frequent urination, the other symptoms of OAB are:
- urinary urgency, or the inability to postpone the need to urinate
- urinary incontinence, or leaking urine
- nocturia, or waking up multiple times at night to urinate
If you have OAB, you should not feel ill or have any pain with urination.
If you have a UTI
Other symptoms of a UTI include:
- urinary incontinence, or leaking urine
- pain or burning during urination
- strong-smelling urine
- blood in the urine
- lower abdominal pain
If you have a different condition
Conditions that affect the bladder or prostate can also lead to other urinary symptoms, such as painful urination or blood in the urine. Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause painful urination too.
Both early and late stages of ovarian cancer can cause urinary urgency.
People with diabetes may find that their urine looks cloudy or smells sweet.
In diabetes insipidus, the urine is typically clear and odorless.
A 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? If so, in what situations?
They’ll most likely ask you for a urine sample to check for:
Your doctor will also conduct an exam of your abdomen. They will likely perform other physical exams, such as:
- a pelvic exam
- an evaluation of the urethra and vagina
- a prostate exam
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. Learn more about cytoscopy.
- Additional urinary testing. This involves a variety of tests that look to see how well your urinary system is working. Examples include urodynamic testing and uroflowmetry.
Treatment for frequent urination depends on the cause. Your doctor will first try to treat any underlying condition responsible for frequent urination.
If a bacterial infection is at fault, they’ll prescribe antibiotics to get rid of it.
Medications that control the muscle spasms in the bladder can help reduce urinary incontinence.
Your doctor may also suggest doing pelvic exercises, such as Kegel exercises or bladder retraining exercises, to help delay urination.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of healing that’s been used to treat illness for centuries. It’s commonly used to treat urinary conditions such as OAB and incontinence.
Currently, there’s no consistent data suggesting that acupuncture is a reliable treatment option for urinary conditions.
A 2013 literature review of a wide variety of studies on acupuncture and incontinence failed to show its effectiveness. A 2018 literature review also concluded that there’s not enough evidence to definitively state that acupuncture helps OAB.
There are some steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of developing frequent urination.
As nighttime nears, try avoiding certain foods and drinks that are known to increase the likelihood of nighttime urination. Examples include:
Constipation can also contribute to frequent urination by putting pressure on the bladder, so you may want to increase your fiber intake to maintain regularity.
Talk with a doctor about the proper way to perform Kegel 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 notice that you have to urinate more than normal, contact a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Frequent urination has a variety of possible causes. It’s important to know which one you have so that you can get started on the right treatment.
OAB and UTIs are the most likely culprits. You may not be able to prevent or cure OAB. However, if you have UTIs that keep recurring, your doctor can help you figure out some lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk.