An adult may be able to hold up to 400 milliliters of urine in their bladder. If a person feels the need to urinate, they should only hold in their pee for as long as it takes to reach a restroom.

Continually trying to hold in pee is not only uncomfortable, but it can also harm the bladder and other parts of the body. Anyone with concerns about their urinary health should talk to a doctor.

This article describes how much the bladder can hold, how often to empty it, and which health issues typically affect urination.

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Holding in pee for too long can be harmful to the bladder and other parts of the body.

The bladder is the organ that receives urine from the kidneys via the ureters, which are thin, muscular tubes.

The bladder is muscular and expandable; it fills with urine as the kidneys continuously filter the liquid. When the bladder expands to a certain extent, fibers that detect stretch in the bladder send signals to the brain, indicating the need to pee.

Most of the time, the muscles of the bladder are in a relaxed state, allowing them to accommodate more urine.

When a person goes to urinate, their brain sends messages telling their bladder to contract. This contraction squeezes the urine, causing it to travel to the urethra and out of the body.

A person’s bladder expands as they grow older. The following are some examples of bladder volume by age:

AgeVolume in milliliters
12 months and younger48.9 ml
5–7 years75–105 ml
8–10 years120–150 ml
11–15 years165–225 ml
Adults300–400 ml

A common misconception is that bladder capacity changes as an adult grows older. This is not usually the case.

However, advancing age does cause some urinary changes, including:

  • decreased sensation when the bladder is full or empty
  • decreased ability of the bladder to contract
  • increased amount of urine left in the bladder after peeing

The amount of time that a person can hold in their pee depends on several factors, such as how much they have had to drink.

If a person feels the need to urinate, they should only hold in their pee for as long as it takes to reach a restroom.

When a person is awake, they should urinate about every 3–4 hours.

Typically, a person urinates about 8 times during the day and no more than once per night after going to bed.

Children should also not urinate fewer than 3 times per day, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

The frequency of peeing depends on how much the person is drinking and issues such as convenience. Typically, a person should pee about every 3–4 hours.

Certain bladder conditions can influence how often a person pees. These are not expected elements of aging.

Anyone with any urinary symptoms should consult a healthcare provider, especially if they may have one of the issues described below.

The following conditions can affect the frequency of urination:

Overactive bladder

A person with an overactive bladder feels sudden, strong urges to urinate and experiences bladder leakage if they do not reach a restroom quickly.

This condition can cause a person to go to the bathroom frequently throughout the day.

Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medications, Botox injections, and the implantation of nerve stimulators.

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence occurs when a person loses control over the ability to hold in and release urine. An overactive bladder falls within this category.

A person may experience incontinence occasionally or all of the time.

Treatments include lifestyle changes, medications, medical devices, and surgery.

Urinary tract infections

It is more common for females than males to experience urinary tract infections (UTIs).

This type of infection can irritate the bladder and increase urinary frequency. Doctors typically treat UTIs with antibiotics.

When a person needs to pee, continually holding it in can have several adverse effects.

These include:

  • Increased risk of bladder dysfunction: Holding in urine can affect how the “stretch” nerves in the bladder communicate with the brain, and the brain may no longer recognize the messages as effectively.
  • Increased risks of UTIs: Holding in urine can increase the number of bacteria in the bladder, increasing the likelihood of a UTI developing.
  • Damage to urinary tract structures: Continually holding in urine can cause it to back up to the kidneys, damaging them and the bladder.

Although rare, it is also possible for a person’s bladder to rupture due to urinary retention.

The increased pressure on the bladder can cause the rupture if there are any weak areas in the bladder wall.

If a person does not receive a diagnosis and treatment quickly, a bladder rupture can cause life threatening complications, including sepsis, which involves severe infection and kidney failure.

Typically, however, when a person holds in their urine for too long, the bladder muscles can stretch no further, and the person experiences incontinence.

An exception to this involves binge drinking, as alcohol affects the ability of the bladder’s nerves to recognize overstretching and empty itself.

As a result, binge drinking is a risk factor for bladder rupture, according to an entry in Urology Case Reports.

Learn more about the dangers of holding in urine here.

Children typically develop the muscles and nerve sensations to control their bladder throughout the night by age 7.

Various health issues can cause urgency or a range of other urinary symptoms during the day or night, regardless of age.

A person should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:

  • waking up several times over the course of the night to pee
  • frequent UTIs
  • the feeling that it is impossible or difficult to fully empty the bladder
  • having to pee so frequently that it interrupts daily activities
  • urinary incontinence, or leaking

Overall, if anything related to peeing is causing discomfort or interrupting daily life, it warrants a trip to the doctor.

Visiting a bathroom as soon as the need to urinate becomes noticeable can help maintain the health of the bladder, its nerves, and surrounding structures.

If a person experiences any issues related to needing to pee, emptying the bladder completely, or holding in urine, they should talk to a doctor.