It may sound like a silly grade school question, but it’s fair to wonder: How often should you go to the bathroom?
The frequency with which we urinate can actually provide some valuable health indicators—in fact, urinating too little or too much could be indicative of a health concern. But what frequency is appropriate, and what factors should be considered?
What’s Considered Normal?
On average, people urinate about 6 to 7 times in a 24-hour period. But while that may be the average, 4 to 10 occurrences over that same time period is considered to be within a normal range. That being said, those numbers can vary day-by-day, depending not only on how much fluid you have been drinking, but also the the type of fluid you’re drinking. For example, diuretics—such as alcohol and caffeine—typically increase the production of urine.
Other Factors That May Play a Role
For reference, in terms of sheer volume, an average bladder is able to hold 1.5 to 2 cups of urine during the day and up to 4 cups at night. Variations in the physical size of our bladders impacts how often we go, as does the strength of our relevant muscles, which can be trained to retain urine longer over time.
Aside from daily variation, we can expect to see changes over time too. For one, as we age the muscles in our bladder become weaker, and it is common to urinate more frequently, with getting up more often during the night being arguably the most annoying side effect. Medication can also play a significant role in frequency, particularly medications that are classified as diuretics, which extract extra fluid and salts from the body and into the kidneys. These types of medication are particularly common among people with high blood pressure, heart problems and/or poor kidney function.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that women should expect to urinate more often when they are pregnant due to hormonal changes and added pressure on the bladder.
The Health Impact
When it comes to the frequency of urination, our health and underlying medical conditions may also play a prominent role. Perhaps the condition most likely to result in increased urinary frequency is a urinary tract infection (UTI), which often causes a sensation of increased urgency.
Both men and women may develop UTIs, but they are more common in women for anatomical reasons. To lessen the risk of UTIs, it’s important that we empty our bladders completely and refrain from “holding it” too long. While UTIs are generally short-term in nature, chronic conditions may also affect our urinary output, including diabetes, hypo- or hypercalcemia, and sickle cell anemia, all of which typically lead to increased urination.
Finally, for men, an enlarged prostate may impact urinary output, potentially causing a blockage and thereby reducing urine output and increasing urination frequency.
Tips and Things to Consider
If you believe you are outside the normal window of urinary frequency, but do not have any significant medical concerns, ask yourself: Is how often I’m going impacting my quality of my life? If you’re free from significant medical conditions but find yourself above the high end of the daily urination spectrum on a regular basis, there may be nothing to worry about provided that it’s not negatively affecting your life.
On the other hand, if you do feel restricted by excessive urination, or have other reasons for concern, consider talking to your doctor about a urinalysis, which is a great first step towards identifying any underlying problems that may exist. In addition, other long-lasting symptoms such as discolored urine, blood in your urine, white and cloudy urine, or even particularly strong or abnormal smells to your urine could be reasons for a consultation.
Depending on the scenario, treatment may be available. While we should all expect regular variation in our urine and the frequency with which we go, it’s important not to overlook long-lasting symptoms of concern.
Derek Noland, MPH Contributing Writer
Derek is a researcher, trainer, and community liaison at the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program at the University of Colorado, specializing in promoting health systems change and combating health disparities. Including his background as a technical writer and editor, he has over 15 years of experience working in the health care field. His past experience includes serving as a contributing author on several textbooks in the medical field, running a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and writing a variety of didactic pieces ranging from online training courses to medical software manuals. Personally, Derek pursues his passion for health and wellness by playing multiple sports, hiking, and running marathons, and through extensive travel, having visited or lived in over 60 countries.