A lot of thoughts run through your mind when you’ve really got to pee: Cursing the limitations of indoor plumbing design. Questioning the life choices that led you to this painful point. Wondering what on Earth that person is doing in there?
And then, if things get really bad — like, the grumpy person in the aisle seat has been dead asleep for an hour and then turbulence hits and the seatbelt light goes on — it hits you: Can my bladder actually burst?
Barring some medical conditions, like previous bladder surgery or bladder cancer, the short answer is no.
“I mean, it doesn’t just happen to any Joe Schmo walking down the street holding his urine too long,” urologist Scott Eggener told Popular Science.
The bladder can stretch a bit to accommodate extra urine. If it goes on long enough, most people would involuntarily pee their pants before anything major happens. Embarrassing, but not life-threatening — a burst bladder could require emergency surgery to drain off the leaked urine.
Still, it’s not a great idea to frequently hold it for long periods of time. Over the course of years, you could weaken the muscles in the area and more easily lose control. Worse, the bladder might stop emptying fully and start collecting bacteria, which could lead to infection.
If you often find yourself in situations where your bladder is getting uncomfortably full, don’t fear: There are ways to train your bladder to hold a little more before it gets to the “gotta go right now” stage. Harvard Health’s suggestions include keeping a bladder diary for a couple of days to see how frequently and at what times you urinate, and then trying to gradually increase the time between bathroom visits.
However, these techniques are mostly for people who’ve developed incontinence from the effects of illness or aging. If you’ve always got to pee during the morning meeting because you drink a Starbucks venti on your way to work every day, you should probably just, you know, go.