Space & Innovation

Is It Dangerous To Hold In Your Pee?

Most of us have had to hold it at some point or another when finding a bathroom just wasn't convenient- but is holding in pee bad for you?

It's a common enough scenario: You really have to urinate, but for whatever reason, you can't get to a bathroom. What's the best thing to do?

Depends, really. Jules Suzdaltsev has the details in today's DNews dispatch.

For the most part, it's totally fine to hold in your pee for reasonable amounts of time when needed. The average human bladder can hold about 16 ounces of liquid before the heavy-duty "need to pee" sensation kicks in. At night, your bladder can hold up to twice that before your brain overrides sleepy time and wakes you up.

The bladder is designed to expand and is equipped with stretch receptors along the bladder wall. When things get too crowded, the receptors send a signal through the spinal cord up to the brain. In response, the brain sends back a reflex signal telling telling the detrusor muscle in your bladder to contract. This creates a feedback loop which provides that intensifying feeling we're all familiar with.

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As events progress, your internal bladder sphincter, normally tightened against the intersection of your urethra and bladder, opens up in preparation for immediate evac. Luckily, your external sphincter, or distal sphincter, continues to hold the line. At this point, it's your detrusor muscle versus your distal sphincter ... and the detrusor muscle will eventually win.

Absent any medical issues, injuries or prior surgeries, the worst that can happen is you will pee your pants, as the medical journals term it. If your bladder is weakened, however, it can potentially rupture against the seal of the external sphincter, filling your abdomen with urine that will have to be cathetered out.

But for most people, the real risk you run when holding it in is that you may develop a urinary tract infection (UTI). That's because the longer you keep urine on the inside, the more likely it is to build up dangerous bacteria levels. UTIs are famously unpleasant, and can cause you to feel like to have to pee even when your bladder is empty. You could also develop urinary retention issues, in which your detrusor muscle is unable to fully evacuate the bladder.

The moral of the story: When you've got to go, you really ought to go. Keep in mind, too, that you can always avail yourself of commercially available emergency contingency systems.

-- Glenn McDonald

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Learn More:

LiveScience: How Much Urine Can a Healthy Bladder Hold?

PopSci: Can a Bladder Actually Burst?

Seeker: Urine Based Dye Found in Ancient New Testament