Urinary Frequency: A Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms podcast
Urinary frequency is the need to urinate many times during the day, at night (nocturia), or both but in normal or less-than-normal volumes. Frequency may be accompanied by a sensation of an urgent need to void (urinary urgency). Urinary frequency is distinguished from polyuria, which is urine output of > 3 L/day.
Urinary frequency usually results from disorders of the lower GU tract. Inflammation of the bladder, urethra, or both causes a sensation of the need to urinate. However, this sensation is not relieved by emptying the bladder, so once the bladder is emptied, patients continue trying to void but pass only small volumes of urine.
There are many causes of urinary frequency (see Table 8: Some Causes of Urinary Frequency), but the most common include
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History of present illness should first ask about the amounts of fluid consumed and voided to distinguish between urinary frequency and polyuria. If urinary frequency is present, patients are asked about acuity of onset, presence or absence of irritative symptoms (eg, irritation, urgency, dysuria), obstructive symptoms (eg, hesitancy, poor flow, sensation of incomplete voiding, nocturia), and recent sexual contacts.
Review of systems should cover symptoms suggestive of a cause, including fever, flank or groin pain, and hematuria (infection); missed menses, breast swelling, and morning sickness (pregnancy); and arthritis and conjunctivitis (reactive arthritis).
Past medical history should ask about known causes, including prostate disease and previous pelvic radiation therapy or surgeries. Drugs and diet are reviewed for the use of agents that increase urine output (eg, diuretics, alcohol, caffeinated beverages).
Examination focuses on the GU system.
Any urethral discharge or any lesions consistent with sexually transmitted diseases are noted. Rectal examination in men should note the size and consistency of the prostate and rectal tone; pelvic examination in women should note the presence of any cystocele. Patients should be instructed to cough while the urethra is observed for signs of urinary leakage.
The costovertebral angle should be palpated for tenderness, and the abdominal examination should note the presence of any masses or suprapubic tenderness.
Neurologic examination should test for lower-extremity weakness and loss of sensation.
The following findings are of particular concern:
Interpretation of findings:
Dysuria suggests frequency is due to UTI or calculi. Prior pelvic surgery suggests incontinence. Weak urine stream, nocturia, or both suggests BPH. Urinary frequency in an otherwise healthy young patient may be due to excessive intake of alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Gross hematuria suggests UTI and calculi in younger patients and cancer in older patients.
All patients require urinalysis and culture, which are easily done and can detect infection and hematuria.
Cytoscopy, cystometry, and urethrography can be done to diagnose cystitis, bladder outlet obstruction, and cystocele. Prostate-specific antigen level determination, ultrasonography, and prostate biopsy may be required, especially in older men, to differentiate BPH from prostate cancer.
Treatment varies by cause.
Urinary frequency in elderly men is often caused by bladder neck obstruction secondary to prostate enlargement or cancer. These patients usually require postvoid residual urine volume determination. UTI or use of diuretics may be a cause in both sexes.
Last full review/revision July 2013 by Anuja P. Shah, MD
Content last modified November 2013