Do you find yourself running to the bathroom all day long? Or waking up several times at night to pee? If you go more than eight times a day and more than once at night, you probably have what doctors call frequent urination.
It’s a common condition among older adults, although it can affect people of all ages.
Many people who have frequent urination also have overactive bladder, a condition in which you get an overwhelming urge to go that comes on suddenly and is difficult to control. Urine may leak out if you don’t get to the bathroom fast enough. As many as 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women experience it at least sometimes, according to the Urology Care Foundation.
In and of itself, frequent urination isn’t harmful. But it can be embarrassing and annoying, especially if that gotta-go feeling is keeping you from doing activities you enjoy such as taking long trips or hiking.
Not a normal part of aging
Many older adults assume that peeing all the time is a normal part of aging, but that’s not the case, says Elizabeth Braxton, a urogynecologist with Novant Health Pelvic Health Center in Greensboro, N.C.
“It’s definitely more common as you age, but it’s not normal,” she says. If you feel like you are urinating too frequently — or if you’re always thinking about where the next bathroom is — you should talk to your doctor about potential causes, Braxton says.
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Frequent urination can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, a urinary tract infection, interstitial cystitis or an enlarged prostate. It can also be a side effect of some medications, particularly diuretics. Sometimes simply changing how and when you take your medications can make a big difference, Braxton says.
Even if there is no underlying condition causing your pee problem, that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Taking the following steps can help reduce your need to pee all the time.
1. Drink water wisely
If you drink a lot during the day, cutting back can significantly reduce urination frequency. Many people guzzle the oft-recommended eight glasses of water a day, but there’s no science behind that number, says Karyn Eilber, a board-certified urologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“If you have a large person working outside, sweating, they probably need more than that,” Eilber says. “But a petite person who sits at a desk all day probably needs much less than that. I spend half my day telling people they are drinking too much fluid.” However, if you don’t drink enough fluids, that, too, can trigger more trips to the bathroom, says Aleece Fosnight, a board-certified physician assistant specializing in urology at Aeroflow Urology near Asheville, N.C. “It sounds counterintuitive, but urine is made up of waste products, and it’s very irritating to the body,” Fosnight explains. “The more concentrated your urine is, the more irritating it is, and that gives you the urge to go.”
So, how much should you drink? It’s best to let your thirst guide you, but aim for a minimum of 40 ounces of fluid a day — that’s about five glasses. Your urine color should be light to medium yellow.
2. Change your diet
Giving up foods and drinks that are known to cause bladder problems can help you urinate less often.
Perhaps the most well-known culprit is coffee. In one study, men who drank two cups of coffee a day were 72 percent more likely to have bladder problems, including frequent urination and leakage. Many other studies show the same association in women.
Other known bladder irritants include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, high-acid foods such as citrus and tomatoes, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and carbonated beverages, including unsweetened seltzer water.
Experts recommend giving up all those foods for two weeks and then reintroducing them to your diet one at a time to see which ones are triggers.
3. Get out of the habit of going “just in case”
Going to the bathroom before you feel the urge can actually worsen urination frequency, Braxton says.
Here’s why: Most people start to feel the sensation that their bladder is full about 10 to 15 minutes before they really need to go, Fosnight explains. If you routinely go before that sensation kicks in, the nerves in your bladder will adapt over time and start signaling your brain that you need to go sooner.
“When your bladder is half full, you’ll start to have the same sensation you used to have when it was three-quarters full,” she says. “That line of capacity drops down.”
4. Try to hold off when you feel the urge
How to Kegel
Both men and women can benefit.
- Identify the right muscles by trying to stop your urine stream mid-flow.
- You can do a Kegel anywhere, but lying down might be easier first.
- Do Kegels with an empty bladder.
- For a short muscle contraction, quickly tighten the muscle for one or two seconds and release for one or two seconds.
- For a long-hold contraction, gradually tighten the muscle for three seconds, then relax for three seconds.
- Work up to a five-second Kegel, then relax for five seconds. Eventually, work up to a 10-second contraction with a 10-second rest.
For more information, the National Association for Continence has a step-by-step guide.
One of the most effective strategies to reduce your need to pee all the time is to hold off for as long as possible after you first feel the urge. (Note: Experts say holding your pee for extended amounts of time — five hours or more — on a regular basis is not good for you either, as it may increase your risk of a urinary tract infection or incontinence, or indicate that you’re dehydrated.)
Sitting down can help you hold off when you have to go, because it places pressure on the pudendal nerve, which “causes a reflex quieting of the bladder,” says Jill Rabin, a urogynecologist and author of Mind Over Bladder: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Continence.
Contracting your pelvic floor muscles (doing a Kegel) also calms the bladder and can make it easier to wait, Braxton says. “I tell my patients to take big, slow, deep breaths, then close your eyes, contract your pelvic floor muscles and consciously tell your bladder to calm down,” she adds. “It’s not perfect, but 1 in 2 to 3 women who do that will get improvement.”
Men can do Kegels, too, and doing them a few times a day will strengthen your pelvic floor and help maximize the movement’s effectiveness in controlling those gotta-go impulses, Rabin says. Bonus benefit: Kegels are also a great tool to control leakage.
5. Set a bathroom schedule
For even more control, consider trying a behavioral therapy called “timed voiding.”
To do it, track how often you go to the bathroom and then set a schedule that adds 10 or 15 minutes to the interval between toilet breaks. So, for example, if you typically urinate every 45 minutes, try to go every hour. Follow the schedule even if you don’t feel like you have to go. After a week, add another 15 minutes. Keep increasing the interval until you can last at least two hours between bathroom visits.
6. Seek medical intervention
If you still struggle with urination frequency after making the lifestyle changes above, talk to your doctor about medical options.
If you have overactive bladder, your doctor can prescribe a medication to help weaken the urge to urinate. Other treatments include nerve stimulation, Botox injections or, if you have a severe case, surgery to implant a “bladder pacemaker” that can help control bladder function.
“The bottom line is that if you’re peeing too much and it bothers you, you should see doctor,” Eilber says. “Some people find it really impairs their quality of life. You should get treatment if it’s keeping you from doing the things you want to do.”
Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance for some of the nation’s top consumer publications. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post and The New York Times.