The lines in the ladies’ room are always way too long—and they’re even longer for women who feel the urge to urinate urgently. Sure, there are obvious explanations (like non-stop guzzling from the stainless steel water bottle you never leave home without), but sometimes your need to pee isn't just because you're drinking too much water and could be due to more serious reasons. Here, doctors reveal some less-obvious reasons you’re always taking bathroom breaks, and what you should do about them.
Excessive thirst and increased urination are classic symptoms of diabetes, but these can develop over time and might not necessarily be super obvious, especially if you don’t have other diabetes risk factors, like being overweight or having a family history of diabetes. When you have diabetes, sugar accumulates in your bloodstream, which forces your kidneys to work harder to filter out the excess sugar. If your kidneys can’t keep up, sugar gets secreted into your urine, along with other fluids. This can create a vicious drink-pee-drink-pee cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic: “This triggers more frequent urination, which may leave you dehydrated. As you drink more fluids to quench your thirst, you'll urinate even more.” If you suspect you might have diabetes, see a doctor for a routine blood test. Depending on how high your blood sugar levels may be, certain lifestyle changes can help manage your diabetes and bring down your blood sugar numbers into a manageable range.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system—your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs involve the lower urinary tract—the bladder and the urethra. Symptoms of a UTI can include frequent urination as well as pain and burning when you urinate. Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics, so you should call your doctor if you think this could be an issue. Check out these tips for preventing urinary tract infections in the first place.
Overactive bladder occurs when your brain and bladder don’t work together properly to tell your body when to hold and when to release urine. “The brain may send signals to the bladder telling it to empty without warning, or the muscles in the bladder can be too active and contract frequently before the bladder is full, which causes feelings of extreme urgency and frequency,” explains urologist S. Adam Ramin, MD, medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. This type of leakage is common in women going through menopause, as well as in men with enlarged prostates. People with overactive bladder often feel the sudden urge to urinate OUT OF NOWHERE and may have to race to get to the bathroom on time without any leaks or accidents. This can lead to social withdrawal (it’s easier to skip that movie than worry about whether or not you can get an aisle seat) and stress at work. Overactive bladder has a number of treatment options, from lifestyle modifications to Kegel exercises to medications for overactive bladder, so see your doctor if symptoms are taking a toll on your quality of life.
As many as 40% of U.S. women and 30% of U.S. men live with overactive bladder symptoms.
If you’ve ever leaked urine while laughing really hard at a friend’s joke or doing jumping jacks in your HIIT class, you know what stress incontinence feels like. Caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, the major symptom of stress incontinence is leaking urine while you’re active in some way. Extra pressure on the bladder during physical activity—such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, heavy lifting, or exercising—can make urine escape through the weak muscles, Dr. Ramin says. “This type of incontinence is most common in women who have gone through pregnancy and childbirth, where the pelvic muscles have stretched and weakened, and bladder nerves may have been damaged.” Being overweight can also raise the risk of stress incontinence by putting extra pressure on the bladder and surrounding muscles that over time may weaken them.
If you’re peeing all the time and have some pain when you go #1, don’t be so quick to assume you must have a UTI; in some cases, sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can also make you feel like you need to pee all the time. “Unfortunately, women who experience frequency in urination may only treated for a UTI and may not be tested/treated for STI,” says Peter Leone, MD, a physician who specializes in sexual reproductive health and infectious diseases at UNC Health Care in North Carolina. “Urgent and frequent urination could be due to the inflammation caused by the infection,” he adds.
If your peeing all the time is especially a problem in the middle of the night, pay attention. “Sleep apnea patients have decreased oxygen flow to their brain, as they stop breathing intermittently during sleep,” says Dr. Ramin. Decreased blood flow to the brain can affect how the brain communicates with the bladder, leading to less inhibition of the bladder and more urges to urinate at night, he explains. The frequent need to urinate at night is called nocturia. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 65 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 84 reported experiencing the need to go to the bathroom several times a night at least a few nights per week. Conditions like OAB or diabetes may cause nocturia too, but sleep apnea’s role in nocturia is getting more and more attention from the medical community. If you suspect you could have sleep apnea (loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, or waking up with headaches are other key symptoms), see a sleep specialist.
Once your bladder fills up close to capacity, it will instinctively want to contract to empty itself. “This is a natural reflex of the bladder muscle,” says Dr. Ramin. However, your brain learned from childhood to inhibit these natural contractions until you’re in the bathroom. (That’s the whole goal of potty training, after all.) If the brain's capacity to inhibit the bladder becomes damaged, this could cause frequent urges to urinate (both daytime and nighttime). This increased urge and increased frequency of urination can occur in patients with diseases that affect nerve and brain function, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, brain tumors, and stroke. Here are more symptoms of MS you should never ignore and other clues of Parkinson’s disease besides telltale tremors.
Foods and beverages that irritate the bladder can make it sensitive and lead to an increased need to urinate, says Arash Akhaevin, MD a urologist at Comprehensive Urology in Los Angeles. Common examples include caffeine (found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks), alcohol, and some hot spicy foods. “Coffee and caffeinated beverages can also act as diuretics and increase urine production, while also stimulating the bladder and inducing a sense of urgent need to urinate,” says Dr. Akhaevin. If you have overactive bladder, decreasing your caffeine intake (as well as avoiding these bladder-bothering foods) may help reduce bladder irritation and that urgent need to pee.
Let’s get this out there first: The most common presenting symptom for bladder cancer is blood in the urine. This occurs in about 85% of patients and can be microscopic or visible to the naked eye, says Dr. Akhaevin. (That said, blood in urine can occur because of many other kinds of health problems, such as kidney stones or other infections.) In some cases of bladder cancer, patients can experience changes in urination, including having to urinate more than usual, feeling pain or burning while urinating, feeling an urgency to urinate even when the bladder is not full, and having a weak urine stream, according to the American Cancer Society. Bladder cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in men, but it’s less common in women. Even though needing to pee all the time probably doesn’t mean you have bladder cancer, the bottom line is that if you’re experiencing changes in urination habits that are troubling you, see a doctor to rule out any potential serious causes.