4 bodily reflexes you should never suppress

Have you ever needed to go to the toilet at an uncomfortable or completely inappropriate moment? A lot of people suppress their instinctive bodily functions. Doing this every so often is not a problem. However, if it becomes a habit, it can have negative impacts on your health.

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The following four reflexes should only be repressed for a long time in exceptional circumstances:

1. Defecating

In the process of extracting nutrients from food, your body produces waste products which are removed by defecating. Suppressing the need to defecate can alter the nutrient uptake in your gut, as it is blocked by waste. Constipation, gas, stomach pains or vomiting are all possible consequences. The accumulated feces harden and cause more pain and even bleeding. On top of this, because defecating removes toxic substances from your body, holding back your excretions can also lead to these substances staying in your body longer than necessary and causing a lot of damage: the vascular pads in your butt, also known as as hemorrhoids, can become inflamed and enlarged, causing unpleasant itching.

2. Urinating

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A lot of people with weaker bladders want to train them by suppressing the urge to urinate. However, this plan can backfire spectacularly. The consequences include pain, nausea, and cramps. Furthermore, holding in your urine can do lasting damage to your kidneys.

If you think you go to the toilet too often, it doesn't necessarily mean it's down to health reasons. Some people just have very small bladders, that can only hold about 200 ml (just under 1 cup) of urine instead of the usual 400-500 ml (1⅔ - 2 cups). If you are still concerned, you should keep a urine diary. Record the frequency of your visits to the toilet as well as the approximate amount of urine per visit. A urologist can use this to determine if your need to urinate really is abnormally frequent.  

3. Coughing

Just like urinating and defecating, the need to cough should be taken seriously — because it's very rare that you cough for no reason. When you have a cold, coughing clears the lungs of excess mucus. You need to do this to make it possible to breath easy again. Holding back the need to cough also puts stress on your respiratory tract. If the cough persists for more than six weeks, you should visit your doctor.

4. Sneezing

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A lot of people think it's impolite to sneeze in company, and therefore try to suppress this reflex.  However, when air is looking for a way out of your body at speeds of up to 100 mph, this is not a good idea. Consciously suppressing this reflex blocks the nose. This causes the air to flow into the middle ear, where it can cause a rupturing of the ear drum. It can also lead to headaches caused by the increased pressure. In addition, it causes strain on the respiratory tract, can block the sinus cavities or make existing sinusitis worse. Sneezing is also a mechanism for removing bacteria, viruses or foreign bodies from your body. For this reason alone, sneezing is not something you should try to suppress. When you have a cold, you should sneeze into the crook of your elbow or a paper tissue to avoid infecting others. 

Always remember that there's an explanation for everything your body feels. When you have to cough, sneeze or go to the toilet, it's not for no reason. There's no way you should be ashamed of it, instead you should always act in the best interests of your body and your wellbeing. That way, you can avoid the unpleasant consequences of suppressing these reflexes.

This website is neither intended nor suitable to replace, complete or refute professional advice, examinations, treatments, diagnoses, etc. by doctors, pharmacists, psychotherapists, medical practitioners and / or any other medical professional.

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