Is It Harmful to “Hold It”?

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Every woman has experienced the uncomfortable feeling of a bladder that’s too full. You’re on a work shift and can’t leave your post. You’re at the movie theater in the middle of the row. You’re stuck in traffic.

So, when you “hold it,” are there any negative consequences?

Female Pelvic Medicine Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeon William Rush, MD, OB/GYN, Lifestages-Samaritan Centers for Women, says there’s no problem if you occasionally have to hold it. It’s only when you’re chronically waiting beyond what’s comfortable for the bladder that you can develop problems over weeks or months.

“The bladder is like a reservoir that collects urine from the kidneys,” Dr. Rush explains. “As it becomes full, it starts to stretch, similar to blowing up a balloon. When it is getting full, it signals that it’s time to empty the reservoir and may begin to have small contractions. The average person goes seven times a day, including once at night.”

If you’ve waited hours to go to the bathroom, you may urinate more slowly or not be able to empty completely because the muscles don’t fully contract.

Dr. Rush says it’s common if you’ve pushed the limits of your bladder’s capacity that you might have to go again just 15 or 20 minutes later. That’s because your bladder didn’t fully empty. He says it’s very important to go that second time to get rid of the rest of the urine.

He notes that stretched muscles typically return to normal within a short time.

Consequences of Chronically Pushing the LimitsIs It Harmful To Hold It - In Content

If you consistently hold it for stretches of six, eight or 10 hours over weeks or months, the bladder muscles may eventually not return to normal position and not push all of the urine out when you go to the bathroom.

If a bladder gets too full, urine can back up into the kidneys, causing them to malfunction. A bladder that’s at capacity also may cause a person to leak urine when the bladder contracts on its own because it is too full.

If a bladder doesn’t empty fully, the bacteria in the remaining urine can multiply and cause infection.

To avoid these problems, create breaks in your day to give yourself adequate time to urinate.

Retraining the Bladder

Dr. Rush recommends listening to your body and the messages it sends. He advises contacting your doctor anytime there’s an issue that’s abnormal for you.

For women who think they urinate too frequently, Dr. Rush says a therapy called timed voiding offers an effective solution.

“Once we’ve ruled out infection or inflammation, we can help you urinate on a schedule rather than when you feel you need to go. We may start with every hour and a half and then extend it to two hours and longer.”

He continues, “The solution is to get your brain and bladder working better together. To an extent, we can train your bladder so it works best for your lifestyle.”

The goal is always to do what’s healthy and comfortable for you.

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