Ever settled down in a cinema and, during the opening scene, had that nagging feeling you need to go for a wee, despite having been just half an hour ago?
If this sounds familiar, you could be suffering from an underlying health problem causing frequent urination or ‘polyuria’.
Our bladders store urine until we’re able to go to the toilet, usually between four and eight times a day. But if you’ve ‘gotta go’ more often than that, wake up in the night needing to wee – and experience bladder discomfort and a strong urge to wee – it could signal a health issue.
Here are some of the main causes…
1. Drinking more liquids
The most obvious reason you might be visiting the loo more often is if you’ve been consuming lots of liquids – what goes in must come out.
2. Caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine has a diuretic effect, which means drinking tea or coffee will make you urinate more. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which makes you wee out more than you drink. According to Drinkaware, for every 1g of alcohol drunk, urine excretion increases by 10ml. Not only that, but alcohol suppresses the hormone (vasopressin) which tells kidneys to reabsorb water rather than flush it out, so the bladder fills up with liquid.
Professor Oliver James, Head of Clinical Medical Sciences at Newcastle University, explains the double whammy to your kidneys: “Suppose you have a pint at lunchtime. At some point you'll need to go to the toilet and get rid of the pint of liquid you've just drunk. Then, an hour later, you'll have to pee again because of the added diuretic effect.”
3. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Around half of UK women are thought to get a UTI at some stage in their lives, according to BootsWebMD, when bacteria escape from the anus and travel up the urethra (the tube carrying urine out of the body) to the bladder.
As well as needing to urinate more frequently, you may have a burning sensation when you wee, pain or pressure in your lower back, cloudy or strange smelling urine, a fever or chills (a sign the infection has reached your kidneys). While most UTIs clear up on their own, see a doctor if the symptoms are uncomfortable or last more than five days.
4. Prostate problems
Problems with the prostate gland, which surrounds the urethra and produces the white fluid that’s mixed with sperm to make semen, are particularly common in men over 50. The gland is walnut-sized, but gets swollen as you get older and can put pressure on the urethra, causing all sorts of issues with urinating, including needing to go more often. You should see a doctor if you notice any changes to your normal pattern of urination. Medication can reduce the size of the prostate and, in the worst cases, part of it can be removed.
Polyuria – needing to wee often AND producing a large amount of urine, up to 3 litres a day, compared to the normal adult output of 1-2 litres – is one of the main symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes (diabetes mellitus).
Normally, when blood is filtered by the kidneys to make urine, all the sugar is reabsorbed and returned to the bloodstream. However, those with diabetes have abnormally high blood sugar levels and excess glucose ends up in the urine, causing more water to be drawn out of the blood. Diabetes insipidus is a separate condition where the body has problems controlling levels of the anti-diuretic hormone vasopressin – causing too much urine to be produced.
Frequent toilet trips are a tell-tale sign of pregnancy because the body starts producing a hormone called hCG, which makes you need to go more often. Later in your pregnancy, the baby will start pressing against the bladder, making you go more frequently, too.
7. Overactive bladder syndrome (OAB)
Studies have found that OAB – a sudden urge to go the toilet, going more frequently, and sometimes leaking before you can get there (urge incontinence) – affects as many as 1 in 6 adults. There’s no known cause for OAB, but it happens when the bladder squeezes without you having control over it – and often when it’s not yet full.
If you constantly answer the urge to go, the bladder gets used to holding less urine and becomes even more sensitive and overactive. Bladder training, pelvic floor exercises and medication are used to treat OAB.