How many times have you thought "I can hold it" when you feel the urge to use a bathroom, but you're in a hurry to get somewhere else, you're in a socially embarrassing position, or there's no restroom facility nearby? It happens to everyone, but it's not something you should allow to occur on a regular basis.

The Dangers of Holding Your Urine

Holding in urine encourages bacterial growth and increases the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). Frequent UTIs can also lead to tissue scarring that can block the flow of urine. Over time, the built-up pressure can stretch your bladder wall and cause permanent damage. And while urine retention can be an underlying cause of UTIs, the infection itself causes inflammation that further blocks the flow. If retained urine backs up from your bladder into your kidneys, you could end up with permanent kidney damage and chronic kidney disease.

Illnesses That May Cauase You to Hold Your Urine and What to Watch For

Some medical conditions, such as bladder stones, can cause involuntary urine retention by blocking the urinary tract. Other conditions, such as spinal cord or nerve damage, can interfere with the transmission of signals from your brain that tell your bladder to release urine. For women, prolapsed bladder or uterine fibroids can cause retention. For men, an enlarged prostate can interfere with the normal flow of urine. "You can also unknowingly block urine flow by straining and contracting your pelvic muscles when you urinate, adds Ngoc-Bich (Nikki) Le, a urologist at Duke Medicine in Durham and Raleigh, NC. Referred to as dysfunctional voiding, it can cause permanent bladder damage over time.

Urinary retention due to medical problems can be chronic or temporary. If you develop symptoms of urine retention, such as weak or difficult flow, feeling of incomplete urination, leakage, or frequent urge to urinate, make an appointment with your doctor to get a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

The Dangers of Holding Bowel Movements

Bodily functions such as passing stool can be embarrassing, especially if they cause a smell. But holding in stool can cause unpleasant and painful side effects, and ultimately lead to constipation, hemorrhoids, anal bleeding from tears in your skin, and a weakened anal sphincter.

As food moves through your intestinal tract, liquids are absorbed back into your body through your intestinal wall, and the remaining solids form stool. The longer stool sits in your intestine, the harder and drier it becomes. When stool becomes too hard and dry, elimination is more difficult, and gas builds up. The accumulation of gas can cause pain and bloating. Holding your bowels can also affect bladder function, because the two systems are physically close together. If hard or impacted stool presses against your bladder, it can cause temporary blockage of urine flow.

The bottom line: Keep things moving as best as you can! And if they stop moving normally, and you don't know why, go see your doctor.

Ngoc-Bich (Nikki) Le, MD, reviewed this article.


Baylor College of Medicine: Urinary Retention

Bryan, Charles MD. Microbiology and Immunology Online, Infectious Disease, Chapter 7: Urinary Tract Infections University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Updated April 2011; accessed October 28 2013.