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Frequent urination: Causes and treatments

Have to go all the time? The technical name for your problem is frequent urination. In most people the bladder is able to store urine until it is convenient to go to the toilet, typically four to eight times a day. Needing to go more than eight times a day or waking up in the night to go to the toilet could mean you're drinking too much and/or too close to bedtime. Or it could signal a health problem.

Causes of frequent urination

Frequent urination can be a symptom of many different problems. When frequent urination is accompanied by a raised temperature, an urgent need to urinate, and pain or discomfort in the abdomen, you may have a urinary tract infection. Other possible causes of frequent urination include:

Diabetes. Frequent urination is often an early symptom of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as the body tries to rid itself of unused glucose through the urine.

Pregnancy. From the early weeks of pregnancy the growing uterus places pressure on the bladder, causing frequent urination.

Prostate problems. An enlarged prostate can press against the urethra (the tube that carries urine out the body) and block the flow of urine. This causes the bladder wall to become irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination.

Interstitial cystitis. This condition of unknown cause is characterised by pain in the bladder and pelvic region. Often, symptoms include an urgent and/or frequent need to urinate.

Diuretic use. These medications that are used to treat high blood pressure or fluid build-up work in the kidney and flush excess fluid from the body, causing frequent urination.

Strokeor other neurological diseases. Damage to nerves that supply the bladder can lead to problems with bladder function, including frequent and sudden urges to urinate.

Less common causes include bladder cancer, bladder dysfunction, and side effects of radiotherapy.

Often frequent urination is not a symptom of a problem, but is the problem. In people with overactive bladder syndrome, involuntary bladder contractions lead to frequent and often urgent urination, meaning you have to get to the toilet right now -- even if your bladder is not full. It may also lead you to wake up once or more during the night to use the bathroom.

Diagnosing the cause of frequent urination

If urinary frequency interferes with your lifestyle or is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, back or side pain, vomiting, chills, increased thirst, fatigue, bloody or cloudy urine, or a discharge from the penis or vagina, it's important to seek medical advice.

To diagnose the cause of frequent urination, your GP will perform a physical examination and take a medical history, asking questions such as the following:

  • Are you taking any medication?
  • Are you experiencing other symptoms?
  • Do you have the problem only during the day or also at night?
  • Are you drinking more than usual?
  • Is your urine darker or lighter than usual?
  • Do you drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages?
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