What happens in your body when you hold in your pee

Credits: Wikimedia Commons / studio tdes

For one reason or another, it can happen that you have to hold in your pee. But does holding it in for too long and too often have harmful consequences on your body? Spoiler alert: yes.

We may not realise it, but an adult bladder can contain up to a half litre -only two glasses -of urine before it needs to be emptied. The walls of the bladder are full of minuscule receptors that send a message to your brain when the bladder has reached capacity. Thus we feel the urge to pee. Most of the time, for those of us in full control of our bladders, we can respond to this urge fairly quickly. But some people can tend to hold it in, sometimes for too long. So what are the consequences on your body?

Once you have decided that you are too busy to go for a pee, or if you simply have nowhere to go, the cylindrical sphincters in your bladder close tightly to prevent any leaks of urine into your urethra. These little muscles are extremely useful, but we shouldn’t ask too much of them! Holding in your pee for too long or too regularly can weaken these muscles, which can lead to urinary retention. Bladder problems can then prevent you from recognising when you need to urinate, and how much urine you need to release. The jet of urine can be too weak, or you may have the sensation that you can’t fully empty your bladder.

Holding in large quantities of urine over a long period also exposes your body to potentially dangerous bacteria, which increases your risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a bladder infection. So it is dangerous, but can it be fatal? Ask Tycho Brahe (so to speak), a 16th century Danish astronomer and alchemist.

Brahe was an amazing scientist, contributing to the exploration of supernovae, comets and planetary orbits. However, one day, “out of politeness”, he refused to leave a banquet to relieve himself. Once he got home, he discovered that he was no longer able to urinate. He died a short while afterwards, when his bladder burst. But don’t worry too much -Brahe’s bladder had previously been seriously damaged before these urinary problems. However, be aware that it is physically possible for the bladder to burst! Most of the time, if the urge is too strong, the body will do whatever it can to ignore the instructions to hold it in, and you will pee yourself. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!