What is bladder and bowel health?

Good bladder and bowel health can help prevent problems in these important body systems. Find out how your bladder and bowel work and what the signs of a healthy bladder and bowel are.

What is the bladder?

The bladder is a round, bag-like organ that stores your wee (urine). It sits in your pelvic area, which is between your tummy and your legs. The bladder is normally the size of a large grapefruit. It can stretch much bigger when full, and shrinks back when it is empty.

How does the bladder work?

The bladder is part of your urinary system. It works with your kidneys to get rid of waste from your blood. The bladder stores wee until it is ready to empty it (urinate).

Your kidneys make wee, which travels to your bladder through tubes called ureters. The wee then sits in your bladder, which can hold about 500ml. You feel the urge to go to the toilet when it’s holding around 300ml.

To do a wee, the muscles that control the opening to the bladder relax. Your bladder then squeezes to empty out the wee.

Most people empty their bladder 4 to 8 times a day.

What are the signs of a healthy bladder?

A healthy bladder:

  • empties 4 to 8 times every day (usually every 3 to 4 hours)
  • can hold up to 400 to 600ml of wee
  • can wake you up once at night to do a wee or twice if you are older (over 65)
  • tells you when it is full but gives you enough time to find a toilet
  • empties completely each time you do a wee
  • does not leak wee

What is the bowel?

The bowel is a tube-like organ. It’s part of your digestive tract. It starts at the stomach and goes through to your bottom (anus). You have two bowels —­­ the small and large bowel — also known as the intestines. It’s the large bowel that empties poo into the toilet. Poo can also be called faeces, bowel motions or stools.

How does the bowel work?

The digestive tract breaks down and soaks up all the food and fluids you eat and drink. It turns these food and drinks into fuel for your body.

The digestive system works by pushing food through the bowel. This usually takes between 24 to 72 hours. Muscles contract to squeeze the food through the bowel. Different parts of your bowel do different jobs. These include:

  • soaking up fluids and nutrients
  • processing and getting rid of waste matter

What are the signs of a healthy bowel?

Being ‘regular’ is a sign of a healthy bowel. Being regular means that when you go to the toilet you have no trouble doing soft, well-formed poos (stools). You should do a poo anywhere from 1–3 times a day to 3 times a week. The Bristol Stool Chart is an easy way to identify what your poos should look like.

However, there’s more to having a healthy bowel than just being regular. Signs of a healthy bowel also include:

  • being able to hold on for a short time after you first feel the urge to do a poo
  • doing a poo within about a minute of sitting down on the toilet
  • doing a poo easily and without pain — not having to push too hard
  • completely emptying your bowel when you do a poo

Why is good bladder and bowel health important?

Having good bladder and bowel health helps minimise the risk of diseases. It also helps prevent or improve bladder and bowel control problems.

Find out how to build healthy bladder and bowel habits.

Last updated: 
11 December 2019

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