Here’s How Much Liquid Your Bladder Can Actually Hold, a Urologist Reveals

Ever been curious? A doctor shares how often you really should be going to the bathroom, what's considered healthy and a few common signs that you might want to seek help.

We all know the feeling: when you’ve really got to pee, it can feel impossible to focus on anything else. But when you can’t dash to the restroom right that second, how big of an emergency is it?

According to Gregory Quayle, MD, a urologist certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties, you might be impressed with how well your bladder works to help you hold it. While the bladder’s capacity “varies from individual to individual, depending on his or her anthropometry and genetics,” says Dr. Quayle, “the maximum bladder capacity is up to 24 to 27 ounces (700 to 800 milliliters) in men and 17 to 20 ounces (500 to 600 milliliters) in women.”

Dr. Quayle says it’s around 50% capacity—that’s 250 to 350 milliliters, or 8.5 to 12 ounces—when nerves in your bladder will be activated to alert your brain that you need to urinate. 

So then, how is it that the average bladder can hold around twice as much as you might feel like you can stand? And, is there a need to worry if you’re going somewhat frequently? For some enlightening physiology trivia—as well as key urinary wellness guidance—Dr. Quayle filled us in.

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Here’s how often you should go to the bathroom

According to Dr. Quayle, it’s normal to go between four and 10 times a day, depending on how much fluid you consume. “The average adult … will urinate around six to eight times,” he says. “An athlete who drinks 20 glasses of water can urinate up to 12 times a day. And finally, the frequency of urination is subject to habit and the size of the bladder.”

When the bladder is empty, it’s actually similar in size and shape to a pear. As you consume liquids, the bladder will expand in a way that’s reminiscent of a balloon. Then, when at least a pint of fluid is in the bladder, many adults will feel the urge to urinate. “Holding it” will stop you from urinating on the spot, but it won’t stop the alert from taking place in your brain until you release the liquid later.

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How to ensure your bladder is in good health

“If you urinate four to 10 times a day and don’t have any symptoms such as pain or burning with urination, weird urine smell, or color then you are urinating normally and your bladder is likely to be healthy,” says Dr. Quayle.

However, there are certain conditions that can disrupt the natural urination process. One is an overactive bladder, which can cause an ongoing, urgent need to go to the bathroom—and in some cases, an inability to hold the urine before reaching a toilet. Another is the neurogenic bladder, which causes you to lose control over your need to urinate and can create difficulty to know when your bladder is full or to even release and urinate when you need to. It can also be an early sign of certain diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s.

If you are experiencing these types of symptoms, or feel the need to go more than the average four to 10 times a day that Dr. Quayle suggests, then it may be time to talk to your doctor. “If you have symptoms of urinary incontinence, urodynamic testing can be prescribed,” he says. “Urodynamic testing is a procedure used to assess how well the bladder and urethra are functioning. It is also used to help diagnose the cause of urinary incontinence.”

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.