You’ve heard about bedtime procrastination, but what about bathroom procrastination? You know, when you put off peeing until your legs are crossed and you can barely hobble to finally park yourself on the porcelain throne. Whether it’s because you’re powering through work e-mails at your desk or you’d rather avoid the horrors of a public restroom, sometimes peeing just lands at the bottom of your to-do list. But can that actually be dangerous? We consulted Benjamin Brucker, M.D., assistant professor of urology at NYU Langone Medical Center, to find out.
How Long Is It Okay to Hold It?
Your body’s physical capacity to keep in urine is based on a few things: “Most of the time women can hold urine for three to six hours, but this will vary,” says Brucker. “It really depends on the amount of urine that someone makes, which is determined by hydration status and fluid intake, and also functional bladder capacity, which is a combination of the actual size of the bladder and bladder sensitivity.” But ultimately, there’s not a ton of research on the subject. “The truth of the matter is normal urination in women across the lifespan is not as well understood as it should be,” says Brucker.
Should You Pee at Every Pang?
As you know, that “I gotta go” sensation ranges from small pangs to a feeling that almost hurts. “You don’t want to give in to every slight sensation to urinate, but you also don’t want to hold it in to the point where it is painful,” says Brucker. “Ultimately, you want to have healthy voiding habits.” That translates into finding a middle ground that doesn’t have you running to the bathroom every time you take a sip of water but also doesn’t result in you bent over with cramp-like sensations.
What’s the Worst-Case Scenario?
“There aren’t any specific complications you can get from holding in your urine, although it may put you at a bit more of a likelihood of developing urinary tract infections, which can be treated with antibiotics,” says Brucker. Having a UTI can also make you feel like you have to go more often than normal, as can conditions like overactive bladder and painful bladder syndrome. If all of a sudden you feel the need to pee way more than usual, head to a doctor to get checked out. Kegels and medication can improve an overactive bladder, while physical therapy and medication can help treat painful bladder syndrome.
Can You Train Your Body to Pee Less?
You know it’s important to stay hydrated, but guzzling water can have the annoying side effect of needing to pee every few minutes. So it is possible to get your body used to holding out? “Some people’s bladders are quite sensitive, and they will have the sensation to void even with the smallest amount of urine in the bladder. It’s okay to try to distract yourself and not give in to every slight urge,” says Brucker. This could potentially stretch your bladder a bit in a healthy way, though you shouldn’t expect any major changes. “There is a small study out there that shows nurses, who may not have the opportunity to frequent the facilities, have slightly larger bladder capacities than age-matched controls,” says Brucker. The bottom line is that you probably aren’t going to do any real damage to yourself by holding it in, but just for comfort’s sake, you should hit the bathroom when it starts to feel annoying. After all, not very many other things can bring on quite the same sense of relief!