Is Having a Small Bladder Really a Thing?

Here’s the real reason some people need to pee more often than others.

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We all have the friend who claims “I have a small bladder” after she runs to the bathroom three times during a two-hour movie. It appears to be a common condition that affects women (and a few men) everywhere, whether you’re feeling fidgety during a long line for the restroom or 39,000 feet in the air on a cross-country flight.

So, here’s the kicker: Small bladders don’t exist. When someone says they have a small bladder, their tank is probably the same size as everyone else’s. The difference is actually in the sensitivity of their bladder. In other words, they feel an urge to pee sooner than usual, even when their bladder still has a ton of room left.

FYI, the one exception to this rule is for those who have had part of their bladders surgically removed, such as for cancer treatment. However, even in these rare cases, the bladder pretty quickly stretches back to its normal size.

A typical bladder can hold from one to two cups of pee at a time. When it’s about halfway full, the bladder will start signaling to the brain that it’s time to seek out a bathroom. That’s why you can usually hold your pee long after that first urge to go: Your bladder is not actually full yet.

But some bladders are more sensitive and will feel a more urgent need to go when their bladders are really just halfway full or less. For an overactive bladder, the muscles may signal the need to pee when there isn’t even a need to go yet. If you find yourself needing to empty the tank more than seven times a day, you may be showing signs of overactive bladder.

Even though small bladders aren’t necessarily a thing, that doesn’t make your constant need to pee any less valid. The most common causes of frequent urination are weak bladder or pelvic muscles, infections (like UTIs), and nerve damage.

Whether you have overactive bladder or just feel like you go a little more often than you should have to, you can improve your bladder continence with kegels, lifestyle changes for OAB, and bladder training. And don’t forget to get honest with your doc, so he or she can offer you the best advice and treatment. Here are tips for talking to a doctor about overactive bladder.