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Welcome to Am I Dying, a column that hopes to save you from your late-night WebMD spiraling. You can email us your hypochondriac questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something I’ve never really been able to get out of my head is this John Mulaney Xanax story, in which he describes going to the doctor claiming “frequent urination” as a cover to get a Xanax prescription. Mulaney ends up telling the doctor that he pees 11 times a day (he doesn’t), and basically the whole joke is that 11 times is way too high, and it alarms the doctor, and he ends up having to get a prostate exam. When I first heard the joke, I was like … ??? Is that supposed to be a lot? I’m pretty sure I pee 11 times a day at minimum. I drink a lot of water, but still — should I be worried?
If you should be worried, I should be worried. Once when I was in college I convinced myself I had bladder cancer and I think what that turned out to be was a UTI. But still. I pee … constantly. I don’t keep a log (yet), but I think 11 times sounds like a pretty average day for me, too. It’s a pain in the ass, frankly, having to get up from my desk almost once an hour, refilling my giant water cup every other trip. It goes in and it comes right back out. What is the point, besides supposedly being essential to life and good for my skin?
Though I tried very hard, and embarrassed myself and my nearby colleagues by asking this question from my desk at work, I was not able to get you the exact right number of times a person should pee per day. The annoying truth is that it varies, depending on (among other things) how much fluid you consume and how much you exercise, says Dr. Bilal Chughtai, a urogynecologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. The good (?) news is that there’s some math you can throw at the problem. “If you’re drinking 8 glasses of water a day, you should expect to urinate roughly that amount,” says Chughtai. “Normal bladder capacity is 1.5–2 cups, so for every cup you drink you should expect to go to the bathroom once.”
Does anyone really know how many cups of water they drink a day? I always treat one glass of water as equivalent to one cup, even though I know that is not true. So yesterday, I decided to actually quantify the amount of liquid I drank in order to see if my pee count (sorry) was justified. Yesterday, I drank: about 12 ounces of coffee, about 50 ounces of water at home in the morning, a 12-ounce juice on the way to work, 72 ounces of water at work, 8 ounces of seltzer and 5 ounces of rosé after work (I have a social life), and probably another 8 ounces of water at home. That is … 167 ounces of liquid, which, at eight ounces a cup, equals 20.9 cups!! Oh my GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. (That question is beyond the scope of this column.) I will say I drank more than usual yesterday, because I have a very irritating throat tickle right now, and I’m trying to kill a cold before it happens. But STILL.
According to Dr. Chughtai’s rule of thumb, though, I’m still in the clear if I peed 20 times yesterday, which honestly sounds about right (I lost count). It’s when you’re peeing disproportionately to how much liquid you’re consuming that you might start to worry. “The first thing that is always helpful to me and that I have patients do is have them keep a bladder diary,” says Chughtai. “I want to see how much you’re drinking versus how much is coming out. If someone is drinking a gallon a day and they go to the bathroom ten times a day, that’s normal. If someone who isn’t drinking fluids but is going 15 times a day, then there’s something to look into.”
If that sounds like you, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, but it’s still very unlikely your problem is a serious one. You might just have an overactive bladder, says Chughtai, for which he recommends reducing intake of bladder irritants like coffee, tea, spicy foods, and acidic foods (hm, so, all the good things), and doing kegel exercises. In some cases, doctors will prescribe a medication to reduce urination.
More troublesome than peeing a lot, says Chughtai, are symptoms like painful urination, or any sign of blood in the urine, which can be early signs of diabetes — or, yes, bladder cancer. (If you’re a smoker, that also puts you at higher risk of bladder cancer, says Chughtai.) But if you don’t have those symptoms, and your pee frequency ( … peequency) corresponds to the possibly outrageous amount of fluids you drink, you’re probably fine. See you in the bathroom.