As newborns, infants and toddlers, we eventually start to learn how to control our bladders. Our brain only knows that when we have to go, it’s time to go, and for many of us, we’ll need to go around 6 or 7 times a day.
After some training we learn to control when we go, and how long we’re able wait before we get to a bathroom. And sometimes we wait a little too long. There may not be facilities nearby, or we’re just too busy. But holding it in isn’t necessarily a bad thing, until it becomes a habit. That’s when problems begin to arise, some more severe than others.
Your bladder is only capable of holding so much — roughly two cups of water (16 ounces) — comfortably. For kids it’s even less: only four ounces.
Think of your bladder as a muscle because, well, that’s exactly what it is. When your bladder is overworked, it can affect other things: for example, your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor muscle is what controls whether or not you’re going to keep urine in, or let it out. (Imagine going back to your infant days!) So, you want your bladder to be in great shape.
Believe it or not, the more you put off emptying your bladder, the more it stretches out. Dr. Chamandeep Bali, a naturopathic doctor at the Toronto Naturopathic Health Clinic says that once the bladder stretches, your brain can lose its ability to know when you have to go.
That critical message your bladder sends to your brain when it’s time to go, can go unnoticed. Which could potentially mean you could pee on your pants.
Now that would be embarrassing, and in my opinion, could possibly be a worst-case scenario. OB/GYN, Lauren Streicher M.D. says, “As your bladder gets fuller and fuller, there’s a good chance you aren’t going to make it to the bathroom on time.” Yikes!
Many of us have been there: that “just barely made it” scenario, where the bathroom line may have been just slightly too long, after you sprinted to get there. It’s more likely to happen to young children and the elderly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you if you push your bladder too far.
About half of all women have had a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) at least once in their lives. These infections occur because bacteria has made its way into the urinary tract, which then causes symptoms like burning, the need to urinate frequently, and pelvic pain, among others.
But UTI’s aren’t actually a direct result of holding in your pee. If you don’t empty your bladder enough, your body becomes a breeding ground for bacteria which can then cause a UTI.
UTIs aren’t the only thing that can occur if bacteria makes itself at home in your urinary tract. Different adverse effects can include further infections, fever, pain, cramping, and more. It’s definitely a domino effect. Save yourself the hassle and just go!
Your bladder connects to your urinary system, which includes your kidneys. The kidneys create urine from the excess water in the blood stream, and by filtering waste. The Kidney and Urology Foundation says that if urine travels back up the tubes that connect your bladder to your kidneys, it can cause infections and kidney damage.
New York Urologist Alex Shteynshlyuger, M.D. also explained in an interview that in long term cases of holding in your pee, elastic tissue can become damaged and eventually be replaced by scar tissue, which then can cause kidney damage down the road.
Not only will you cause yourself discomfort by holding in your urine, but the muscle doing all the work can end up staying clenched. Streicher explained, “I see a lot of people who come in with lower abdominal pain and think that something is seriously wrong, and one of the things I look for is does the person have normal bladder habits. And a lot of times, they don’t. Well, that causes pain that may stick around for awhile.”
Alcohol will cause you to use the bathroom more and so will coffee and caffeinated drinks because they are diuretics, meaning they can increase urine production. So if you’re worried about having to use the bathroom often — maybe you’re on a road trip, or you’re stuck in a meeting — don’t drink them.
The more holding it in becomes a habit, the more you’re going to see the problems it can create. It’s important to make sure you get to the toilet, not just because of the sheer embarrassment of a potential accident, but because of the fact that some of the health consequences can be very severe. Allow yourself ample time in your day to free your pee, and you’ll be golden in more ways than one!