February 27, 2023
Frequent VS. Excessive Urination – What’s the Difference?
With many aspects of medicine, urologic included, the terms used to describe two conditions can seem the same to patients even when they are two different things. For example, when a patient is told that something they’re experiencing is “common,” it may lead them to believe it is “normal.” Sometimes this is true, but not always. Tension headaches are common, but they are not normal. They are a sign that the body is malfunctioning in some way. These seemingly minor distinctions may not be a big deal to some. Still, when you’re facing a diagnosis that you need to understand and do something about, understanding medical distinctions are crucial.
In my field of urology, when a patient is diagnosed with frequent urination, it can sometimes be confused with excessive urination. But there are distinct differences between these two medical findings that should be understood as their causes and treatments can be entirely different.
Frequent urination means frequent urges that drive a person to the bathroom to empty the bladder. With frequent urination, the body may be making the correct or appropriate amount of urine, but the patient develops these constant urges to urinate, despite the bladder not being full enough to warrant the urges. Excessive urination, on the other hand, means the body produces urine quickly, requiring the need to go to the bathroom frequently. In excessive urination, a high volume of urine production leads to the bladder reaching its fill capacity frequently.
Though frequent and excessive urination can seem similar, they are usually caused by different factors. The causes of frequent urination commonly include:
-Excess urine production
-Spinal nerve irritation/injury
-Diabetic nerve injury to the bladder
-Urinary Tract Infection with acute cystitis
The causes of excessive urination commonly include:
-Drinking too many fluids, especially at one time
-Taking diuretic medications
-Having a condition called SIADH: Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-diuretic Hormone production
Although frequent urination and excessive urination may sound similar, urologists need to distinguish which is which for the health of their patients. As seen above, the underlying conditions for these two urinary processes are different and warrant different treatment approaches. For example, people experiencing frequent urination due to a spinal nerve problem or spine injury may need surgery, injections, or medication to repair the area of the spine causing the urinary symptoms. Those with diabetes experiencing excessive urination will need medication therapy to get diabetes under control so that it relieves the urinary symptoms it is causing.
Where frequent and excessive urination can overlap is in the sexual health symptoms they can cause or affect. Both conditions cause the patient to constantly use the bathroom, which can, in turn, disrupt sexual activity. Additionally, the urge to urinate can worsen with sexual arousal, disrupting sexual activity to go to the bathroom. Furthermore, many underlying conditions leading to frequency or excessive urination can also cause erectile dysfunction independent of frequency or excessive urination. For instance, diabetes not only causes urinary frequency by leading to neuropathy of the bladder, but it causes vascular and nerve injuries to the penis, which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
The human body is fascinatingly complicated. It can be frustrating for patients who want to get to the bottom of their medical conditions to know which way to turn or to avoid accidentally turning in the wrong direction regarding medical care and advice, especially when seeking it from online sources. If you or someone you know is experiencing frequent or excessive urination, the best place to turn to is a urologist. Urologists are specifically trained and experienced in the treatment of urinary conditions. Though the underlying cause might need to be addressed by a different medical specialist (spine or endocrinologist in the examples provided above), a urologist is an essential first step in figuring out what’s going on so that it can be treated appropriately and effectively as soon as possible.
E-mail answers provided by Dr. Ramin on 2/12/23.