Frequent Urination - "Too Many Bathroom Breaks"

Find out the causes, risk factors and treatments for frequent urination, a symptom that can indicate a variety of different conditions.

by Donald Feeney, MD

Frequent urination is best described as having to urinate so often that your activities of daily life and sleep are adversely affected.   This problem is not an illness itself but rather a symptom of a wide variety of conditions, some from diseases, and others from external factors.

The urinary tract--the kidneys, bladder and drainage system--can be afflicted by infections at any site, which causea frequent urination as the urinary organs react to the infection.  Bladder infections and those of the prostate are the most common urinary tract infections causing frequent urination, but infections of the kidneys may also result in this symptom.  Treatment of the infections with appropriate antibiotics will usually cure the infection and stop the frequent voiding.

Obstruction of the outflow of urine from the bladder is another cause of frequent urination.  An enlarged prostate in men and scars in the urine tube draining the bladder impede the bladder’s ability to empty, resulting in frequent attempts to void and completely empty the bladder.

Tumors of the bladder and prostate often cause frequent urination as their earliest symptom with or without other complaints such as blood in the urine. Prompt medical/diagnostic investigation of any unexplained frequent urination should be undertaken to discover the cause.  If a tumor is found, appropriate treatment will hopefully cure the tumor and relieve the frequent voiding.

Disease of the nervous system of the body often results in the bladder emptying itself often and sometimes with a sense of urgency.  Multiple sclerosis, strokes, spinal core injuries and diseases and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few, are good examples of neurological conditions that often are accompanied by frequent urination.  Treatment options include medications to calm or slow down the nerve impulses to the bladder as well injecting or severing the nerve fibers to the bladder.

In women, weakness of the pelvic muscles is another cause of frequent urination, often associated with a feeling of urgency.  Multiple or difficult vaginal births are thought to be the ultimate of this muscle laxity or weakness, sometimes associated with a uterus that has descended part way into the vagina.  Surgical correction and repair (usually with a removal of the uterus) will tighten the muscle of the pelvic floor and alleviate the frequent voiding.

Diabetes, a very common disease, is associated with frequency of urination as the body attempts to excrete the excess glucose (sugar) that builds up in the blood from the diabetes.  Reduction of the blood sugar with medications will control the frequent urination as well as the diabetes.  Proper diet and weight reduction are also important in diabetic control.

There are several non-infectious conditions of the bladder that can cause severe urinary frequency.  One particular condition is called Interstitial Cystitis.  Mainly affecting women, it tends to cause persistent urinary frequency and eventually a somewhat reduced bladder capacity.  There is no known cause of this disease.  Treatment consists of medications inserted into the bladder, as well as distending the bladder under anesthesia to increase its capacity.  Oral anti-spasm medications can also be administered.  This condition is chronic and although the symptoms can be helped and partially controlled, a true cure is rare and the patient must be maintained on a treatment plan for many years.

Finally, frequent urination can result as a side effect of various medications taken for other reasons.  Diuretics, which increase urine production, are often used for treatment of high blood pressure and some heart conditions and can certainly cause frequent voiding.  There are other drugs that will also increase urinary voiding.  Treatment is most often adjusting the dose of the medication and reducing the oral intake of fluids while the patient is on the drug.

In summary, frequent urination is a common symptom and should always be addressed and treated.  If persistent, a complete medical and urologic evaluation should be undertaken to define the cause and initiate a treatment plan.

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