Can You Get a UTI From Holding Your Pee?

It’s an unfortunate fact that bathrooms are not always available. Maybe you’re traveling and don’t know where to find a bathroom, or your job makes it difficult to take frequent bathroom breaks. Whatever the reason, we’ve all found ourselves having to hold our pee, even for a little while, but is it possible for this to turn into a UTI?

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What Exactly Is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the bladder, ureters, urethra, or kidneys, which all come together to form the urinary tract. In some cases, you may hear names such as bladder infection or kidney infection, but these are just names for specific UTIs, since UTI is a blanket term for an infection in any part of the urinary tract.

While any pathogen can cause a UTI, it most often occurs from infection of bacteria in the bladder, with E. coli as the most common bacterial cause of UTIs. E. coli can enter the urethra and travel to the bladder, where they then grow and reproduce, causing inflammation, irritation, and other signs of infection.

Can Holding Your Pee Cause a UTI?

Despite being a common myth, only holding in your pee does not mean you will get a UTI. As we now know, a UTI is caused by a bacterial infection, so if there are no bacteria in your bladder, then there will not be a UTI, no matter how long you hold your pee.

That being said, holding in your pee does increase your risk of a UTI.

Our urine serves a very important purpose in clearing out the urinary tract each time it passes through and leaves the body. When you regularly go to the bathroom, your urinary tract is regularly cleaned. This is important because bacteria can enter the urinary tract, but the regular flow of urine through the urinary tract helps to clear the bacteria out before they settle in and become an infection.

However, holding in your pee removes this regular cleaning. Instead of removing the bacteria before they can reach the bladder, the bacteria instead have enough time to travel through the urinary tract into the bladder, where they can begin growing and reproducing.

Holding in your pee also gives any bacteria in your bladder more time to grow and reproduce, which can then lead to infection.

So, while holding in your pee does not cause a UTI, it can increase the risk.

How Can You Get a UTI?

A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra. This often happens through sex, using a catheter, or wiping from back to front after having a bowel movement.

UTIs are most common in women because their urethra is smaller and located closer to the anus. This anatomy makes it easier for bacteria to travel into the urethra and up to the bladder.

Is Holding in Your Pee Bad?

In most cases, those with a healthy urinary system will not see any harm from holding in their pee, and if anything, they will just experience some discomfort from their full bladder.

In some cases, holding your pee may even be necessary, such as for those with an overactive bladder who undergo bladder training to develop a more convenient urination schedule.

There are some conditions where holding in pee is more dangerous, and this includes those with:

  • neurogenic bladder
  • enlarged prostate
  • urinary retention
  • kidney disorders

Holding in your pee can also be dangerous for pregnant women, as pregnancy already increases UTI risk, and holding in your pee further increases the risk.

Equally as bad as holding in your pee is not urinating completely when you do go to the bathroom. When you leave any urine behind, you also risk leaving behind bacteria, which then have more time to continue growing and reproducing. If you don’t completely empty your bladder, you do not completely remove the bacteria.

What Can Holding Your Pee Cause?

While holding in your pee does not cause a UTI, it does increase its risk of occurring. Additionally, holding in your pee can increase the risk of kidney infection, which is a complicated UTI requiring more intensive treatment.

Beyond increasing the risk of a UTI, holding in your pee can cause the bladder muscles to weaken over time, which can make it hard to completely empty your bladder or may cause problems with incontinence.

What To Do If You Have a UTI?

The symptoms of a UTI can include:

  • burning sensation when peeing
  • urgent and persistent need to urinate
  • cloudy looking urine
  • pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • strong-smelling urine

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for an antibiotic prescription. Antibiotics are the only way to treat a UTI and can only be obtained with a doctor.

If you cannot schedule an appointment with your doctor, DrHouse allows you to meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes, no matter where you are. You can discuss your symptoms with your doctor and receive your antibiotic prescription all from your phone.

Once you have your antibiotic, it is essential to drink lots of water and urinate whenever the need arises to help your body remove all the bacteria.

Key Takeaways

A UTI is caused by bacterial growth in the urinary tract, with bacteria most often entering through the urethra and growing and reproducing in the bladder. While holding your pee cannot cause a UTI, it can increase the risk of one developing.

Urinating is vital for emptying the bladder and clearing all bacteria from the urinary tract. However, when you hold your pee, the bacteria have more time to remain in the bladder and grow, leading to infection.

Not only can holding your pee increase the risk of a UTI or a kidney infection (a more complicated UTI), but it can also weaken your bladder muscles, potentially leading to incontinence problems or difficulty fully emptying the bladder. To protect your urinary tract, try to urinate whenever you feel the urge, urinate completely, and speak to a doctor about an antibiotic if you think you have a UTI.

Sources:

  • Flores-Mireles, A., Walker, J., Caparon, M., & Hultgren, S. (2015). Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13(5), 269-284. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro3432 
  • Bleidorn, J., Gágyor, I., Kochen, M., Wegscheider, K., & Hummers-Pradier, E. (2010). Symptomatic treatment (ibuprofen) or antibiotics (ciprofloxacin) for uncomplicated urinary tract infection? – Results of a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Medicine, 8(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-8-30 
  • InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Bladder training. 2013 Nov 12 [Updated 2016 Dec 30]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279430/ 
  • Al-Badr, A., & Al-Shaikh, G. (2013). Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review. Sultan Qaboos University medical journal, 13(3), 359–367. https://doi.org/10.12816/0003256 
  • Mulvey, M. A., Schilling, J. D., & Hultgren, S. J. (2001). Establishment of a persistent Escherichia coli reservoir during the acute phase of a bladder infection. Infection and immunity, 69(7), 4572–4579. https://doi.org/10.1128/IAI.69.7.4572-4579.2001 
  • Hayes, B. W., & Abraham, S. N. (2016). Innate Immune Responses to Bladder Infection. Microbiology spectrum, 4(6), 10.1128/microbiolspec.UTI-0024-2016. https://doi.org/10.1128/microbiolspec.UTI-0024-2016 

Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

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