It is not advisable to regularly hold urine, as it can result in problems. Holding in pee may cause a urinary tract infection (UTI), pain, and more. In the long term, it can cause the bladder to stretch.

The urinary bladder is a hollow, pear-shaped organ that forms part of the urinary system. The bladder’s role is to store urine until a person is ready to use the restroom.

The capacity of a healthy adult bladder is about 16 ounces, or 2 cups, of liquid and even less for a child. The bladder can stretch to hold more than this, but doing so too often can be dangerous. It is not advisable to regularly put off going to the bathroom.

In this article, we look at the possible effects of holding in pee for too long or too frequently.

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In a healthy adult, occasionally holding in pee will not cause problems, but there may be some unwanted effects if it becomes a habit.

When the bladder fills about halfway with liquid, it sends a signal to the brain that it is time to pee. The brain creates the urge to urinate while telling the bladder to hold on.

Sometimes, it is necessary to hold in urine. It may be difficult to access a restroom, or a person may be practicing exercises to retrain their bladder.

There are no hard rules for how and when it is safe to hold in pee. Some people may be more prone to side effects than others.

Below, we look at five potential side effects of holding in pee:

1. Pain

People who regularly ignore the urge to pee may feel pain or discomfort in the bladder or kidneys. When a person finally does reach the bathroom, urinating may also hurt.

The muscles may also stay partially clenched after the release of urine, which can lead to pelvic cramps.

2. Urinary tract infection

In some cases, holding in pee for too long can cause bacteria to multiply. This may lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Many doctors recommend avoiding holding in pee for extended periods of time, as it can increase the risk of UTIs, especially if a person has a history of frequent UTIs.

People who do not drink enough liquids may be more likely to develop a UTI, because the bladder is not telling the body to pee often enough. This can cause bacteria to spread through the urinary tract, leading to infection.

Symptoms of a UTI can include:

3. Bladder stretching

In the long term, regularly holding in pee can cause the bladder to stretch. This may make it difficult or impossible for the bladder to contract and release pee normally.

If a person has a stretched bladder, extra measures, such as a catheter, may be necessary.

4. Damage to pelvic floor muscles

Frequently retaining urine may harm the pelvic floor muscles.

One of these muscles is the urethral sphincter, which keeps the urethra closed to prevent urine from leaking out. Damaging this muscle could lead to urinary incontinence.

Doing pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, may help strengthen these muscles and repair muscle loss or prevent leakage.

5. Kidney stones

Holding in pee may cause kidney stones to form in people with a history of the condition or in those who have a high mineral content in their urine. Pee often contains minerals such as uric acid and calcium oxalate.

The capacity of the human bladder may vary slightly among individuals.

Evidence suggests that a healthy bladder can hold roughly 1.5–2 cups, or 300–400 milliliters (ml), of urine during the day. During the night, the bladder may be able to hold more, up to about 4 cups, or 800 ml.

Children have smaller bladders, as their bodies are still developing. People may be able to predict the size of a child’s bladder by using the following equation: (age + 2) x 30 ml.

For instance, according to this formula, a 10-year-old child would have a bladder capacity of roughly 360 ml.

A healthy bladder may also be capable of stretching and accommodating larger volumes of urine. However, it is advisable for a person to urinate at regular intervals.

Many believe that the bladder will burst if a person holds in their pee for too long.

While it is possible for a spontaneous urinary bladder rupture to occur, often, there is an underlying cause of the rupture, such as a blockage preventing the bladder from voiding. In most cases, the bladder will simply override the muscles holding the urine in, causing the person to have an accident.

However, trauma to the bladder is more likely to occur due to blows or piercing objects.

It is important to note that without treatment, a spontaneous urinary bladder rupture can lead to severe complications.

Some preexisting medical conditions can lead to urinary retention. This is usually involuntary, and it tends to go unnoticed, but it can cause similar complications.

An enlarged prostate, weakened bladder muscles, or nerve damage in the urinary system may block the flow of urine or cause the body to retain it.

People with kidney disorders may also want to avoid holding in pee, to prevent possible complications.

In some cases, doctors may recommend retraining the bladder to urinate less frequently. This involves resisting the urge to pee.

The goal is to increase the amount of fluid the bladder can hold before it triggers the urge to pee. If successful, this will extend the amount of time between trips to the bathroom.

A doctor will often develop a personalized retraining schedule, and they will typically oversee the training.

The following tips may help a person ease into the retraining process:

  • staying warm, because being cold may trigger the urge to pee
  • listening to music or watching television for distraction
  • actively engaging the brain with a game, puzzle, or problem to solve
  • reading a book or newspaper article
  • staying seated or walking around, whichever resolves the urge
  • making a telephone call or writing an email

The key is to engage the brain and direct attention away from the urge to urinate.

Although it is best to pee whenever the bladder is full, a person may not have immediate access to a bathroom.

The following tips can help an individual make it to the toilet in time:

  • Cross the legs while standing: This may compress the urethra and help avoid an emergency.
  • Pass gas: A buildup of gas may be putting added pressure on the bladder.
  • Pee right after waking up: People in a rush to leave the house may skip a trip to the bathroom, but it is important to start the day’s cycle of urination right.
  • Plan for regular bathroom breaks: A person may want to try scheduling a bathroom break every 2–3 hours. Set an alarm and head to the bathroom, whether or not the bladder is sending a signal. This can help relieve pressure and avoid emergencies.
  • Do not wait until it is an emergency: Regardless of deadlines or busy days, make a habit of heading to the bathroom the moment the urge to urinate hits.

Occasionally holding pee in will likely cause no harm. However, regularly doing so may increase the risk of infection or other complications.

It may help to have healthy and regular bathroom habits. Anyone who feels that they are urinating too much or too often should contact a doctor.