The dangers of holding your pee, according to a doctor

Woman needing to pee. (Getty Images)

So you need to pee. You’ll just finish typing that email. But then your boss grabs you for an impromptu meeting. Oh and you have to discuss last night’s MAFS Australia with your colleagues. Before you know it it’s lunch time and you’ve still not made it to the loo.

And what about when you're at a concert or festival and the queue for the toilets means you're going to miss that Taylor Swift belter, so you cross your legs and hope for the best.

But really what harm can holding your pee for a few hours really do? Really quite a lot, actually.

To explain we need to look at how the body lets us know we need to go.

For the bladder to empty fully, you need an intact nerve control system between your brain and the bladder.

This effectively tells your body when you need to go to the loo and stores your pee until you are ready to go.

While this initial nudge that you need to go can easily be ignored, as the bladder continues to fill the urge becomes more frequent, insistent and can be difficult to ignore.

The nudge can be suppressed by walking or running and it can also help to discretely apply some pressure down below - it’s a trick you often see children deploying in a less discreet fashion.

Holding your pee involves consciously fighting this signal to urinate.

Health risks of holding your pee

The problem is our body is giving us those need to pee signs for a reason and ignoring them can actually be pretty bad for you.

For a start not giving into the wee when you need to go can confuse your brain and your bladder. And if you regularly hold your wee, it could mean your body’s ability to pick up on those must-pee signals reduces, leading to little accidents.

Mixed signals aside, there are some pretty serious health problems associated with holding your wee. Step forward the dreaded UTI.

"Prolonging the urge to pee can stress your bladder muscles and increase the chance of getting an infection," explains Dr Hana Patel, NHS GP who has partnered with Victorian Plumbing to reveal the health implications of holding your pee.

"Taking time for the bladder to be completely empty when you’re at the toilet can avoid high post-voiding residual volume, which could cause infection."

Woman on the toilet (Getty Images)
Why it is so important not to hold your pee. (Getty Images) (Getty)

If your bladder fails to empty and goes into retention, the bladder muscle can become overstretched and can be damaged.

"An overstretched bladder struggles to contract and empty the bladder effectively," Dr Patel continues.

When the bladder is not functioning properly, it may cause complications like urinary tract infections and kidney stones, or it could be connected to bowel dysfunction.

"Bowel and bladder health go together. It is very important to regulate bowel movement as it could also help to maintain bladder function," Dr Patel adds.

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

How long can we hold our pee before it starts impacting our health?

Most healthy adults pee around four to seven times a day based on the average two-litre fluid consumption.

"Maximum capacity of the bladder is usually about 300 to 600ml," Dr Patel adds. "We usually empty when the bladder is about two-thirds full."

Dr Patel says ideally we should be emptying our bladder fully every three to four hours in order to reduce the likelihood of developing urinary tract infections, cystitis and to protect your kidneys from damage.

People queuing for festival toilets. (Getty Images)
Holding your pee at a festival can have health consequences. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Turns out holding your pee at this summer's festivals and concerts could put us at extra risk, thanks to the drinks we'll likely be consuming while swaying along to our favourite bands.

"Caffeinated drinks, carbonated drinks and alcohol can fill your bladder much faster due to their components," Dr Patel explains.

"This can create urinary urgency and over-extend your bladder, especially if you are out and do not have immediate access to a bathroom."

And, while rare, this could lead to a pretty extreme health consequence.

"You could develop incomplete bladder emptying and bladder injury if your bladder is overstretched," Dr Patel adds.

So don’t put off that trip to the loo folks, your bladder really won't thank you for it.

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