I’m a Urologist, and This Bad Habit Is Wrecking Your Bladder Health

Like many people I know, I always pee right before I leave the house. This has been a non-negotiable habit ever since the time I was stuck in traffic on the freeway with a painfully full bladder and no relief in sight. It’s become even more important during the pandemic—since many public restrooms are closed, it feels as essential to pee before going out for a social-distanced walk as it is to grab your mask and hand sanitizer.

However, while the “just in case” pee seems like a smart strategy, it might actually be pretty bad for your bladder. At least, that’s according to a recent viral TikTok video from Bethany Henry Clark, PT, DPT. In the video, she says that making yourself pee when you don’t feel the immediate need to do so can, over time, actually make you have to pee more and more often. (Mind. Blown.)

I had never heard of this before, so I got in touch with board-certified urologist Lamia Gabal, MD, to get her thoughts on “just in case” peeing.

First off, a normal bladder capacity is about 10-15 ounces, Dr. Gabal says. (Many things can affect this, such as pressure on your bladder from pregnancy or constipation.) In general, it’s normal to pee six to eight times in a 24-hour period if you drink 64 ounces of fluid a day, but this depends on how much you drink. “I often tell my patients, ‘What goes in, must come out!’” she says.

Dr. Gabal says that she has many patients who, like me, practice the “just in case” pee. This strategy can be helpful for people with urinary incontinence issues, she says, because they will leak less. But for otherwise healthy adults, Dr. Gabal agrees with Clark that this practice can be potentially problematic. “It can send a message to your brain that this is a correct volume for your bladder to have the sensation of needing to urinate, almost training your bladder to have to void at smaller volumes,” she says. Meaning, when you pee when you don’t have to go, it can cause you to start feeling the urge to pee even when your bladder isn’t full.

If this sounds like you, there are a few things you can do to help recalibrate your bladder. “It is very important to stay well hydrated and to avoid bladder irritants, including caffeine, carbonation, and spicy and acidic foods and drinks,” Dr. Gabal says. When you avoid these irritants, it helps your bladder be less sensitive so it can hold more urine. “You can also ‘train’ your bladder by trying to avoid urination with the first urge by doing a Kegel exercise. This may cause the bladder to relax and be able to delay voiding,” she says.

If these simple strategies aren’t helping your bladder, seek out a pro. “It is time to see a urologist if you’re living your life around your bladder, as there are many treatments we can offer,” Dr. Gabal says. You should be in charge of your bladder, your bladder shouldn’t be in charge of you.” Pelvic floor physical therapists (like Clark) can also help. Dr. Gabal also recommends seeing your primary care doctor or a urologist if you have any burning when you pee, see blood in your urine, or have frequent UTIs.

TMI, but I may or may not be doing Kegels as I finish writing this story, because typing the word “pee” this many times is making me think I have to go (even though I just peed).