So you need to pee. You’ll just finish typing that email. But then your boss grabs you for an impromptu meeting. Oh, and you have to discuss last night’s ‘Bodyguard’ episode with your colleagues. Before you know it it’s lunch time and you’ve still not made it to the loo.
But what harm can holding your wee for a few hours really do? Really quite a lot, actually.
To explain we need to look at how the body lets us know we need to go.
“As your bladder starts to become full it gives you a gentle nudge characterised by a small wave of contraction through the bladder muscle,” explains Dr Rick Viney, Consultant Urologist at BMI Edgbaston and Priory hospitals in Birmingham.
“This initial nudge can be easily ignored but as the bladder continues to fill the nudges become more frequent, insistent and difficult to ignore.”
We’ve all been there! Dr Viney says the urges can be suppressed by walking or running.
“Discretely applying some pressure down below will also help and it’s a trick you often see children deploying less discretely,” he adds.
But our body is giving us those need to pee signs for a reason and ignoring them can actually be pretty bad for you.
For a start not giving into the wee when you need to go can confuse your brain and your bladder. And if you regularly hold your wee, it could mean your body’s ability to pick up on those must-pee signals reduces, leading to little accidents.
Mixed signals aside, there are some pretty serious health problems associated with holding your wee. Step forward the dreaded UTI.
“Delaying emptying the bladder can create problems over time such as infections,” explains Dr Viney.
“The bladder empties down the urethra, the tube to the outside world. The last third of the urethra is colonised by bacteria that are constantly trying to work their way up the urethra. Every time you have a wee you sluice the bacteria back. If there are long pauses between trips to the toilet it gives the colonising bacteria the chance to make it all the way up to the bladder.”
“Women are more prone to infection due to the much shorter female urethra,” he adds.
And delaying your pee can cause problems that are more immediate, too.
“The bladder has an element of elasticity in it and like elastic, if overstretched, it loses its elasticity,” Dr Viney explains.
“This means the bladder lacks the power to empty and this is called retention which, when painful, is a medical emergency warranting a catheter.” Yikes!
Though putting off your toilet time is largely a bad thing, according to Dr Viney there are times when people are encouraged to delay emptying.
“We recommend this in patients who go too often to wee. In childhood, they will have learnt some bad habits and this has left their bladders feeling full when they’re only partly filled,” he says.
By encouraging the patient to try to ‘hold on’ it allows the bladder’s stretch receptors to recalibrate over time and retrain the bladder to behave more normally.
“This can be taken too far, however. I had a patient who managed to ‘train’ her bladder to hold over a litre. Handy when the queue for the ladies is snaking around the corner I suppose,” he adds.