You just downed two cups of black coffee. You drank a liter of water after your workout. Your girlfriends talked you into doing a green juice cleanse. You just suffer from IBB (itty bitty bladder) syndrome. Regardless of the reason, the toilet and its siren song of sweet relief are calling and you really need to go—now. But one of the first things you learned as a potty-training toddler is that you simply can't go whenever or wherever nature calls, which brings up to some very urgent questions about urgency. Is it bad to hold your pee? How long exactly is it safe to do so? How many times a day should you be urinating? What happens if you don't pee when you need to? Thankfully a new TedEd talk answers these questions and more about the need to free your pee.
Let's just start with the worst case scenario: Astronomer Tycho Brahe ignored his urge to urinate so long that it caused his bladder to burst, killing him. Of course, this is an incredibly rare situation, and experts say there's no need to worry about the normal "holding it until the next rest stop" scenario. Still, urine is how your body rids itself of waste products, so it makes sense your body wants it out ASAP, as Dr. Heba Shaheed said in her TedEd talk. (More: Is It Bad to Hold Your Pee?)
It works like this: Your kidneys take in waste, mix it with water, and pass it down through two ureters into the bladder. The bladder then fills with urine and as it expands, stretch receptors tell our brain how full things are getting. When your bladder gets 150 to 200 ml (or 1/2 to 3/4 cup) of urine in it, you first feel the urge to pee. By 500 ml (about 16 ounces or a large soda), you get uncomfortable and start scoping out the nearest exit. Once you get near 1000 ml (the size of a large water bottle) you are in danger of pulling a Tycho Brahe and having your bladder explode. Don't worry too much about that though, as Shaheed reassures us that "most people would lose bladder control" and just pee themselves before they could get to this point. Uh, great news?
Because of these limitations on our bladder size, the average person should be peeing four to six times a day, Shaheed says. Any less than that and you might not be drinking enough or could be waiting too long to go to the bathroom. While the consequences of dehydration are well documented, people aren't as aware of the damage holding it in can do. Suppressing the urge to pee too many times can damage your internal and external urethral sphincters as well as your pelvic floor muscles, making you more prone to leakage, pain, and incontinence over time, she explains.
And ladies take note: Shaheed adds that "hovering" over the toilet seat instead of sitting on it can also damage these muscles. (Psst... Here are more reasons why squatting over the toilet seat is a bad idea.) So there you have it: Official scientific permission to use the bathroom when you need to. And just relax and sit down—your body and bladder will thank you for it!