QotW: Why do I need to pee more as I near the toilet?

We can't hold in an answer any longer.....
08 September 2020

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Question

Charlie asks: "Maybe this is just me, but it dawned on me that whenever I have to hold in a pee, the need to go increases exponentially when I know that relief is close. Why is this?"

Answer

To relieve Charlie of his question, Katie Haylor asked physiologist Bill Colledge from Cambridge University to expel the answer...

Katie - On the forum, user syphrum said that “As you get older you will find there are no rules about holding on to a pee you will find it has a mind of its own”. So to relieve Charlie of his question, I asked physiologist Bill Colledge from Cambridge University to expel the answer.

Bill - I believe that this is sometimes referred to as “latchkey incontinence” - the urge to pee becomes greater the closer you get to home and the toilet. It can also apply to any toilet that you know you can access. The urge is caused by neural circuits in the brain that become activated in anticipation of being able to use the loo.

Katie - Bill says it’s all about what’s called a conditioned response stimulus.

Bill - A conditioned response is one where a neutral stimulus is paired with a neuronally encoded physiological response over time. The most well known example of this is Pavlov’s dogs who were conditioned to the sound of a bell as a signal for food. After the conditioning, they would start salivating when they heard the bell even though no food was provided. Humans have quite a few conditioned responses – for example, you will often start to salivate simply at the thought of a meal. 

For the peeing conditioned response – from an early age we are taught to associate the bathroom with peeing so the closer we get to one, this subconscious conditioning kicks in and causes physiological responses to increase the urge to pee.

Not everyone will have the same response however – it will depend on how much they have been conditioned and whether they can break this conditioning by delaying going to the toilet as long as possible after the urge to go.

Katie - Bill Colledge, thanks very much. This isn’t the only type of incontinence issue people can experience, and overall urinary incontinence is quite a common problem. So if the urgency that Bill described, or any other type of urinary issue, is getting in the way of your day-to-day life, it might be worth seeking out help from your doctor.

Next time, we’ve got our eyes to the skies to answer this question from listener David.

David - What method of time would you use in travelling through space, as a day, month, year, would become meaningless?  And how would this affect the body clock?

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