5 everyday factors that cause frequent urination
With edits by Dr Charles Mercer
Urination is one way our bodies get rid of waste products. Blood flows into our kidneys and waste products from the blood start to filter out through millions of microscopic sieves called glomeruli. The end product is simply water from our blood mixed with waste products which we call urine.
A tube, called a ureter, links each kidney to the bladder, where urine is stored. As our bladder fills we start to feel the need to urinate. During urination our bladders contract and urine flows from the bladder through the urethra. There is a wide range of what is considered ‘normal’ when it comes to emptying our bladders —on average people urinate between four to seven times per day.1 Urinating more than this is called urinary frequency, but it is important to remember that this is also a relative term — passing urine more than your daily normal amount is also urinary frequency.
If you do notice changes in the amount you are needing to pee, or if you are experiencing pain and/or other symptoms, then it is likely you will want to know what could be causing this. There are a lot of different causes of frequent urination, some of which aren’t serious and are easily solved, and others which may need further treatment. Five everyday factors that can cause frequent urination are discussed below — but if you do find you are urinating more frequently and maybe have other symptoms, then it is important to see your GP.
Urinary tract infections may also be referred to as cystitis and urethritis depending on which part of the urinary tract is infected (bladder or urethra respectively). They are more common and more easily treatable in women than in men, simply because women have shorter urethras and it is easier for bacteria to build up there.
Signs to look out for are urinary frequency and incontinence, pain on passing urine, fevers, and feeling generally unwell. You are more likely to get a UTI if you have been through menopause, have diabetes, have a urinary catheter, or have a weak immune system. UTIs are commonly caused by sex, so it is important to urinate within 30 minutes of having sex. Some people get UTIs after every sexual encounter, in these cases showering after sex (for you) before sex (for you and your partner) and staying well-hydrated may work as effective preventatives.
It is important not to leave a UTI and hope it goes away; the infection is likely to persist and even progress up the urinary tract to the kidney. As with bacterial infections, UTIs are vulnerable to antibiotics. You should visit your GP straight away if you believe you have a UTI and they will be able to prescribe the right antibiotic for you. If you find the first antibiotic you try doesn’t work after three days of treatment, go back and ask for a different antibiotic.
The brain and spine send signals to the bladder to store or get rid of urine and different environmental and psychological states can influence this process. So, depending on your surroundings or your emotional state, you may suddenly feel as if you need to urinate urgently. If this urgency results in leakage of urine, this is called urge incontinence. Environmental factors which may stimulate the bladder include arriving home, going outside on a cold day, and the sound of running water.
Stress, depression, and anxiety are psychological states that also have this effect; even emotionally-charged conversation can result in urge incontinence. Realistically, no one is able to live their life entirely stress-free and ways to minimise stress vary from person to person. Meditation, exercise, and avoiding caffeinated drinks are some of these methods. The first two of these are excellent means of lowering cortisol, a significant stress hormone. In fact, studies have shown how regular exercise functions as effectively as medication in lowering stress.2
Diabetes is a condition in which the levels of sugar in your blood are abnormally high due to the reduced effect of a hormone called insulin. High levels of blood sugar can damage the eyes, heart, fingers and toes, so the body tries to dispose of all this sugar in the urine. Consequently, people with diabetes often have urinary frequency and/or urinary incontinence.
Diabetes also damages the immune system and as a sugary environment encourages bacterial growth, this may lead to frequent UTIs. Getting your glucose levels checked in your blood and urine involves a simple test at the GP. Bringing the blood sugars back to normal levels is extremely important as its damaging effects on the body are lifelong. If you are urinating very frequently and perhaps experiencing other symptoms, such as excessive thirst and weight loss, then it is important to go see your GP. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent diabetes.
A prolapse is when the uterus is no longer properly supported by your muscles and hangs down partially through the vaginal orifice. Other organs can also prolapse, including the bladder and the bowel. This is common in women who have gone through childbirth, which causes stretching and muscle trauma, and results in the weakening of the ligaments and muscles that normally support the organs in the pelvis.
Urinary urgency, frequency, and incontinence are all common symptoms of prolapse. This is because movement of organs from their normal position increases the pressure on the bladder. Other symptoms include pain during sex, a dragging sensation or discomfort in the pelvis, backache, and difficulty urinating or passing stools. This can be extremely unpleasant, and sadly many women suffer in silence with these symptoms out of embarrassment. This really needn’t be the case as there are a range of effective treatments. Pelvic floor exercises are an excellent preventative, small plastic rings can be inserted into the vagina as a supportive measure, and you can have surgery to cure the problem.
5. Sleep apnoea
Urinary frequency that occurs at night can impact on quality of sleep and affect mood and concentration during the day. However, sleep issues may also be causing the underlying problem. Sleep apnoea is a condition involving temporary or partial collapse of the airways when asleep, and results in poor quality sleep. It is common in heavier people as the extra weight results in excess soft tissue, which causes airway blockage (particularly at night when throat and tongue muscles relax). Studies suggest that this condition is related to heart disease, high blood pressure, and urinary incontinence.
Sleep is not only important for rest, but it is essential for regulating bodily hormones. Reduced amounts of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) are released from the brain in sleep apnoea, leading to more urine production and urinary frequency. Maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake are essential in lowering your risk of suffering from sleep apnoea. The most effective treatment for sleep apnoea is something called continuous positive airway pressure, which is a face mask that delivers a constant flow of air to keep your airways open while you sleep.
These are just some of the common causes of urinary frequency. Others include pregnancy, and stress incontinence, the latter being when a temporary increase in pressure in the body leads to inadvertent urination, when for example coughing or laughing.
If you are struggling with urinary frequency there are solutions out there, so visit your GP if you have any concerns. Likewise if you notice blood in your urine or unintentional weight loss with urinary frequency then you should go and visit your GP as soon as possible.
- Collins et al., Oxford Handbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 3rd edn., Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 655.
- A. Blumenthal et al., ‘Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?’, ACSMs Health Fit J, vol. 16, no. 4, 2012.