Here’s Why We Have to Pee So Much When It’s Cold

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Have you ever noticed that you constantly need to go to the bathroom during the colder months and wondered why? If you’re going to the bathroom a lot in winter, you may wonder if something’s wrong with your health. Or is it just a normal winter occurrence? The truth is that there are a few different things that can cause this phenomenon.

So if you’ve ever wondered why we urinate more in cold weather, just keep reading to learn the answer.

Is it normal to pee a lot in cold weather?

In many cases, it’s perfectly normal to feel like you need to pee more when cold weather arrives. The truth is that scientists don’t fully understand why it happens, and not everyone experiences having to pee a lot when it’s cold. However, there are certain hypotheses that aim to explain frequent urination when it’s cold outside.

Cold diuresis refers to the phenomenon when your body feels an increased need to urinate when exposed to cold temperatures. Water accounts for approximately 70 percent of the adult human body, and different hormones regulate the fluid balance in our bodies.

Reasons for frequent urination in cold weather

Different factors affect the fluid balance of the human body, and extreme temperatures — both hot and cold — play a big role in this process. Cold diuresis usually happens when the body is exposed to extremely cold weather and, in some cases, mild hypothermia.

When your body gets too cold, it activates different mechanisms to preserve body heat and keep you safe.

In the cold, blood vessels in your skin and limbs constrict to concentrate heat and fluid in your core, which is where your vital organs are.

As a result of more blood being pumped inside a smaller portion of your body (your thoracic and abdominal cavities), your blood pressure temporarily increases. When this happens, your kidneys start to work harder than usual to try to filter all this excess fluid out and bring your blood pressure back to normal levels. As your kidneys produce more urine and your bladder becomes full, you will probably feel the urge to urinate more due to the cold.

Toilet signs as a metaphor for frequent urination in cold weather

However, this process doesn’t affect everyone the same way. This makes sense, since all human bodies are different and react differently to factors such as external temperature. Scientists who have researched this phenomenon haven’t been able to determine the exact temperature, hydration levels, exposure length, or other factors that trigger cold diuresis.

Does going to the bathroom a lot in cold weather mean something’s wrong?

In most cases, cold diuresis doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. However, cold diuresis can sometimes be a warning sign that your body temperature is getting too cold. Cold diuresis has been evidenced in cases of hypothermia, but most of the time, it’s a mild symptom that will go away once you warm back up.

Hypothermia usually only develops after prolonged exposure to extremely cold weather. But having to pee a lot when it’s cold can happen to anyone in milder conditions. It’s still important to keep an eye out for other symptoms of hypothermia so you know if the cold weather is affecting your health and whether you should seek medical attention. We’ll discuss some of the most common signs of hypothermia below.

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Caffeinated drinks, which many people enjoy during winter, can also increase your need to pee more frequently.

There are other medical conditions that can cause an increased urge to urinate. It’s normal to feel like you have to pee a lot if you drink a lot of water. But be sure to track any other symptoms and visit your doctor if there’s no apparent cause to your frequent urination and it doesn’t improve over time. Other possible causes of frequent urination include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • Prostatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Changes in kidney function
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Certain medications

There are also warning signs that could tell you if your frequent urination is caused by something other than the weather. Symptoms that warrant a trip to the doctor include:

  • Painful or burning sensation when you urinate
  • Feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder after urinating
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Having to strain or push to start urinating
  • Lower abdominal or back pain
  • Bloody urine
  • Red or dark brown urine
  • Foamy urine
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in your neurological status

You should seek medical assistance if you experience these symptoms. An increased urge to urinate can be a normal response to the cold weather or increased fluid intake, but it can also be a sign of an underlying health issue. Getting a timely and accurate diagnosis is a good way to ensure that you’ll be able to access the right treatment for you.

Cold diuresis: A sign of hypothermia?

In some cases, cold diuresis can be an early sign of hypothermia. However, if you’re ever in danger of hypothermia, feeling like you have to pee probably won’t be the only sign you notice. Other symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination or “fumbling hands”
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Bright red skin

Hypothermia is a serious medical emergency, and you should take action immediately if you or someone near you ever develops these symptoms. The first thing that you should do is to come inside, remove any wet clothing, and try to warm yourself up.

Electric blankets or layers of dry blankets, sheets, or clothing can be used to warm yourself up if you have hypothermia.

Warm beverages can also be helpful to increase body temperature, but you should avoid alcoholic drinks at this time!

Try to ask someone for help or call emergency services so you can access medical care. Anyone who shows signs of hypothermia should be closely monitored by a health care professional until their symptoms improve, since hypothermia can lead to serious health consequences and even fatal outcomes in some cases.

How to manage cold-induced diuresis symptoms

The best way to manage cold diuresis symptoms is to make sure you’re bundled up if you’re going to be exposed to extremely cold temperatures. During the wintertime, it’s very important to wear appropriate clothing made of insulating materials that can help you retain body heat so you can enjoy the cold weather safely. Some of the best materials for warm winter clothing include:

  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Twill
  • Acrylic
  • Wool-acrylic blend
  • Cotton-acrylic blend

In addition to wearing different layers of clothing with a nice, warm coat on top, remember to cover as much of your skin as possible during the winter. Keeping skin exposed can make you lose body heat through these areas, which usually include the face, hands, head, ears, and nose. To keep yourself warm, wear a hat, scarf, and gloves that are appropriate for cold temperatures.

If the weather outside is too cold or you don’t have appropriate clothing to withstand the conditions, it may be a good idea to stay inside until conditions improve. It’s always wise to keep an eye on the weather forecast and pay attention to warnings of extreme temperatures.

A close-up of a glass of water as a metaphor for having to pee a lot

Remember to drink plenty of fluids during the winter months. It may feel like you can decrease your fluid intake when you’re out in the cold, since you probably won’t be sweating as much as in summer. But the processes that lead to cold diuresis can also dehydrate your body, so you need to stay hydrated regardless of the temperature.

Don’t decrease your fluid intake in an effort to urinate less. Dehydration can develop very quickly if you stop drinking enough water, even if it’s cold outside. Additionally, doing this can increase your risk of urinary tract infections, which can cause a new range of uncomfortable symptoms.

If you ever experience concerning cold-related symptoms that don’t improve, it’s important to warm yourself up and seek medical assistance. You should also go to the doctor if you have additional symptoms that could point to an underlying medical condition.

In most cases, having to pee more when cold is a normal bodily response. Although it may be annoying to have to go to the bathroom frequently, remember that it’s just your body working properly to keep you safe in the cold. Just follow some basic winter safety tips to warm back up, and your cold diuresis will usually resolve on its own.

July 21, 2022