How often do I need to urinate?

Dear Alice,

How frequently should I expect to urinate? I don't drink much liquid. I leave my job about once an hour. Is this normal? How can I cut back? Do I need to see a doctor?

Dear Reader,

It can be tough to determine what's "normal" and what's cause for concern, especially when it comes to nature's call. In order to learn more about your pee patterns, you can consider how long this has been going on: have you always had to urinate about once an hour, or is this a change from your usual frequency? This is a key question because if this has always been how often you pee, then your frequent bathroom breaks may just be your body's normal rhythm (in which case there's likely no need to try to change or worry about your fluid intake or your bladder control to decrease the frequency). If this is a change, it may be worth investigating further. 

If it turns out that your frequent urination is just your normal pattern and not related to any condition treatable by health care intervention, then try to relax and "go with the flow." You can try your best to continue to drink the recommended amount of fluids — between 11.5 to 15.5 cups (or 2.7 to 3.7 liters) a day, depending on your health needs and daily habits. You'll know you're drinking enough fluids if your urine is clear and a light-yellow color. It's wise not to overconsume, though, as drinking too much fluid can make your symptoms worse. However, it's key not to under-consume, as well; if not enough fluid is consumed, your urine may become concentrated and irritate the lining of your bladder, which can increase the urge to urinate.

One cause of increased urinary frequency is an overactive bladder (OAB), which is characterized by a frequent and sudden urge to pee throughout the day and night. This urge occurs when the muscles in your bladder contract involuntarily, even if urine levels are low. This condition may be difficult to control, which can cause urine to unintentionally leak out at unexpected times, also known as urinary incontinence. Signs of an OAB include urinating eight or more times in a 24-hour period and getting up more than two times a night to pee. 

In addition to overactive bladder, there are a number of other possible causes for increased urinary frequency, including:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Use of certain medications, such as diuretics
  • Certain heart or kidney conditions
  • Pregnancy
  • Bladder or hormonal changes after menopause
  • Prostate enlargement
  • Constipation
  • Tumors or kidney stones in the bladder
  • Declining cognitive function due to old age
  • Incomplete emptying of the bladder, leaving less room to store urine

If your frequent urination is significantly disrupting your sleep, productivity, or any other aspect of your life, then it may be a good idea to see a health care provider. To prepare for your appointment, try to think of any other issues you’ve been experiencing that might be related to your frequent urination: Do you have pain in your abdomen and/or when you pee? Do you feel that it's difficult to control your bladder or have a strong urge to urinate? Is your pee discolored (brown or red) or do you have blood in your urine? Sharing these additional symptoms and issues with your health care provider may help them identify a cause or condition and get you proper treatment if needed.

Once they've completed the initial screening process, they may conduct some initial tests which can provide information about the presence of possible infection, diabetes, or kidney problems. Some of these tests can measure how well the bladder can empty, the flow rate of urine, or how much pressure the bladder needs to use in order to try and empty itself. Each of these tests can provide information to health care providers about what may be happening. Depending on the results, they may be able to advise you on next steps for care or provide a diagnosis if it's applicable.  

There are also some home remedies and lifestyle choices that may help prevent or alleviate the risk of an overactive bladder, including:

  • Strengthening the muscles in the pelvic area through specific exercises called Kegels
  • Limiting consumption of caffeine and alcohol
  • Engaging in daily physical activity
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Implementing these changes may help you determine a particular activity that could potentially be contributing to your frequent urination and figure out how reduce it or stop engaging in it entirely. After all, life's no fun if you've always "gotta go"!

Last updated Jan 21, 2022
Originally published Apr 09, 2004

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