I'm a urologist. 7 signs the way you pee may be hurting your health
Peeing is a routine part of the day and a necessary function to get rid of waste your body doesn't need. It may seem simple, but there is actually a right way and a wrong way to urinate.
Certain bad habits can lead to a variety of urinary and bladder issues, both in the short term and long term. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make, according to urologists.
Holding it in for longer than you need to
Sometimes holding in your pee is unavoidable — we've all had to ignore nature's calling during long car rides, movies or concerts. However, making this a habit or purposefully holding it in for much longer than you need to can lead to other issues, including urinary infections, Dr. Ashley Winter, a board-certified urologist and chief medical officer of Odela Health, tells TODAY.com.
Think of a stagnant pond: The water will grow algae and bacteria, Dr. Evan Goldfischer, president of the national non-profit urology trade association LUGPA, tells TODAY.com. Similarly, a full bladder is more susceptible to infections because the bacteria can multiply. Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile, Winter adds.
That's why it's crucial to keep things flowing from the bladder out of the body by drinking water and urinating whenever the bladder starts to feel full, she notes.
In the long-term, holding in your urine can allow the bladder to stretch out too much, says Goldfischer, which can cause someone to lose bladder function. Like an old elastic band, an overstretched bladder can't contract back to its normal shape again, he adds.
On the flip side, if you can't hold in your urine at all or experience frequent leaks, you could have urinary incontinence and should talk to a urologist or pelvic floor therapist.
Not fully emptying your bladder when you go
In the same vein, not fully emptying your bladder when you pee — for example, if you're in a rush — can also increase the risk of urinary infection and stretching the bladder, says Goldfischer.
But not fully emptying your bladder isn’t always intentional, and you might not even be aware of it, Winter says. This condition is called urinary retention, which can be acute and severe, or chronic and develop slowly over time, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Causes of urinary retention include: blockages, certain medications, infections and swelling, as well as neurological conditions, where there are problems with the nerves that send signals between the brain and bladder, Winter says.
If you notice your bladder doesn't feel empty after you urinate, speak to your doctor or a urologist. Symptoms of urinary retention include pain or swelling in the lower abdomen, frequently urinating in small amounts, still feeling an urge to pee after urinating, and a slow stream, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Mistaking an overactive bladder for a "small bladder"
According to Winter, it’s technically possible for someone to have a “small bladder,” but this is usually not the case. “Most people who say they have a small bladder have a normal bladder, and they’re really talking about their threshold for discomfort.”
The definition of an overactive bladder is urinating more than eight or nine times a day, says Goldfishcher, but this varies depending on the individual and factors like age, lifestyle and health conditions.
“Some people are programmed to have a very large prostate, for example, which affects how often you pee,” he adds. Frequent urination can also be caused by drinking too many liquids.
But if you're urinating more than nine times a day, there could be an underlying problem, such as an overactive bladder, UTI, kidney infection, bladder stones or diabetes, per Mayo Clinic. In males, frequent urination can be a sign of a prostate problem. About one in six men get prostate cancer, so it's important to talk to your doctor about prostate screenings, says Goldfischer.
If you're unsure whether you pee too often, Winter suggests asking yourself the following: Is this disruptive to my quality of life? If your the answer is yes or your urination habits are affecting your sleep, job or social life, it’s time to see a urologist.
Overdoing it with caffeine or alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol increase urine production, Goldfischer says, and they're also bladder irritants, meaning they increase the urge to pee and cause pain or discomfort, per Cleveland Clinic.
Drinking too much of these can lead to frequent urination, which may be disruptive to your life or sleep, Goldfischer says. Alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms of an overactive bladder, so people with this condition, especially, should watch their intake.
Because of the frequent urination, caffeine and alcohol also promote water loss, so if you aren't drinking enough water, they can be very dehydrating. Dehydration can lead to kidney stones and other health problems, Winter says. "If (your urine) is really dark and concentrated, drink more water," she adds.
Not getting recurrent UTIs checked out
A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract (which includes the bladder and kidneys). Symptoms include a painful or burning sensation during urination, frequent urination, a strong urge to urinate and bloody or foul-smelling urine, per Mayo Clinic.
Sexual activity, anatomical issues, pregnancy and menopause are all risk factors for developing a UTI, the experts note. UTIs are more common in females because their urethra is shorter compared to males, says Goldfischer, which makes it easier for bacteria to get into the urinary tract.
UTIs can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated the infection can spread to the kidneys, per the Mayo Clinic. “There’s evidence that (having) a lot of urinary tract infections can lead to scarring in the bladder or the prostate, which can affect your ability to urinate,” says Goldfischer.
The diagnostic criteria for recurrent UTIs in a female adult is three infections a year, which should prompt an evaluation by a urologist, says Winter. Because urinary tract infections in males are much less common, Winter recommends men see a urologist anytime they get a UTI just to be safe.
Urologists can screen for conditions that could predispose you to UTIs — such as kidney stones, low estrogen levels or an enlarged prostate — and recommend the right treatment or prevention strategies, says Winter.
Shrugging off pinkish or reddish urine
The color of your urine is largely based on how much water you drink, says Goldfischer, but certain foods, vitamins and supplements can affect our urine's hue, as well.
Assuming you didn't just eat a beet salad, if your urine is pinkish or reddish, this could be a warning sign, says Winter, and you should seek medical attention or talk to your healthcare provider.
Blood in the urine (also called hematuria) isn't always serious, but it could be caused by an underlying issue like a UTI, kidney disease or stones, or an injury, per Mayo Clinic.
"Blood in the urine can be an early warning sign of not only infection but also bladder cancer," says Goldfischer, adding that the most common risk factor for bladder cancer is smoking. "Someone who has blood in their urine and a history of smoking ... should definitely get to a urologist and have it looked at."
Regularly taking mega doses of vitamin C
"Too much vitamin C can cause kidney stones," says Winter, adding that since the pandemic, she has seen an uptick in people overdoing it with vitamin C because of its immune-boosting properties.
"Almost nobody needs mega doses of vitamin C," says Winter, as there's no immune benefit to consuming extra vitamin C on top of the recommended daily intake (90 milligrams a day for adults, per the National Institutes of Health).
"The problem is that vitamin C in your urine becomes something called oxalate and high levels of oxalate in the urine can become kidney stones," explains Winter. "If you have fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, you almost certainly don't have a medical need for extra vitamin C."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com