The Dangers of Holding in Your Pee, According to Science

iStock
iStock

Maybe you drank too much water before sitting down for a meeting. Maybe it was a long car trip where no one else had to go and you didn't want to request a bathroom break. Maybe you guzzled a 54-ounce soda during Titanic and decided to tough out the last 45 minutes.

However it's happened, you've probably found yourself flexing your pelvic muscles to act as a dam against a tsunami of urine until you had the right opportunity to relieve yourself. And you may have wondered what—if any—damage you were risking in denying your body a chance to remove all that waste. Will your bladder explode? Will you pee your pants? Are you inviting permanent and embarrassing pee-related trauma to your body?

"As a one-time thing, here or there, the majority of people with normal urinary tracts are probably not doing any harm in the long run," Howard Adler, medical director of the prostate care program and clinical associate professor of urology at Stony Brook Medicine, tells Mental Floss.

The key, Adler notes, is "here or there." The average number of times people need to urinate in a day ranges from four to seven and depends on your hydration level. If you are a chronic pee pauper who holds it in several times a week, you're flirting with a few uncomfortable consequences.

One of the more well-known categories of people who voluntarily hold in their urine are nurses, who are often so busy on long eight to 12 hour shifts that they don't take the time to relieve themselves. Experts have dubbed the habit “infrequent voiding syndrome” (and it's also known as having "nurse's bladder"). A 1991 study of 72 female nurses found that those who habitually avoided the bathroom had actually enlarged their bladder capacity, from the norm of 500 milliliters up to 1100 milliliters, or from about 16 ounces of liquid to 37 ounces. (One water bottle is 16 ounces.)

No other adverse effects were noted, although over time, stretching the bladder to elephant-sized proportions (metaphorically speaking; an actual elephant bladder holds about 42 gallons) could eventually result in urination changes: Retaining that much urine can weaken pelvic floor muscles, making it harder to maintain control over the urge to go. Rarely, infrequent voiders might also develop a urinary tract infection or kidney damage from retaining urine; if they drink less to avoid using the bathroom, they might potentially develop kidney stones.

But can the combination of a Big Gulp and a highway logjam create an actual medical emergency? Adler says that while it's "theoretically possible" that a bladder could burst from too much urine, it probably won't unless the organ is damaged from outside forces. Someone drinking too much and then getting into a traffic accident could perforate their bladder during a collision, for example. It's also possible you could pee your pants, but it's infrequent.

Adler stresses that infrequent voiders are typically avoiding relief for eight hours or more, so a long movie or two-hour meeting probably isn't going to do any damage. People tend to make 1–2.7 ounces of urine per hour. Even if you're guzzling water, it'll be some time before your bladder is at max capacity and you're in pain. Hold it if you need to, but don't make a habit of it. 

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.