Nocturia is a common referral to the Urology teams in Devon. However, nocturia is often caused by a non-urological problem. This guidance is designed as a primary care diagnostic and management aid based on the Urology Advice and Guidance response to these referrals. Clearly, there are urological causes that are appropriate for referral when primary care management has failed, or red flags are present.

Management of nocturia should be directed at the underlying cause. The most frequent causes of nocturia can be categorised into global polyuria, nocturnal polyuria, bladder storage disorders and sleep disorders.

There are several lifestyle modifications which can help to improve nocturia:

  • avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol in the evening
  • limit fluid intake around 3 hours before bedtime
  • evening leg elevation if pedal oedema
  • timing of medications – moving diuretics to mid-afternoon, administer calcium channel blockers in the morning
  • ensure good sleeping conditions e.g. lighting, temperature, reducing daytime naps


This clinical referral guideline covers the assessment, investigation and management of nocturia.

Definition: An individual who has to wake at night one or more times to void.

Red Flag/Urgently refer patients if:

  • a suspicion of prostate or bladder cancer see 2WW referral
  • storage symptoms in a heavy smoker
  • chronic retention which may present as night time enuresis / over flow incontinence and/ or painless palpable bladder needs renal function checking and refer urgently

Pre-choice Triage is currently active for this specialty

Out of scope


Signs and Symptoms

The causes of nocturia can be divided into the following categories:

  • Global polyuria - persistently raised urine output over a 24-hour period. Commonly caused by primary polydipsia or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  • Nocturnal polyuria - increased urine production at night, typically defined as more than 1/3 of the 24-hour urine output voided at night

Causes include:

  • changes in anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) with age;
  • fluid shift as a result of peripheral oedema redistributing when recumbent;
  • changes in Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (ANP) linked with age or obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), and Brain Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) due to heart failure
  • Bladder storage disorders - any structural or functional pathology that affects the reservoir capacity of the bladder e.g. bladder outflow obstruction, overactive bladder, bladder tumour, bladder stone, external compression, neurogenic bladder dysfunction. This will typically cause frequent small volume voids
  • Sleep disorders - patients that wake during the night often void whether or not the reason for waking was the need to void

History and Examination

  • Presence of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS): LUTS Clinical Referral Guideline and International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS)
    • Voiding/obstructive LUTS - hesitancy, weak stream, incomplete emptying
    • Storage LUTS - frequency, urgency
  • Incontinence
  • Nocturnal enuresis
  • Haematuria
  • Fluid intake, alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Past medical history, in particular: heart failure, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), low albumin, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, GORD
  • Medication history, in particular: diuretics, lithium
  • Blood pressure
  • Weight
  • Cardiovascular examination - signs of heart failure
  • Abdominal examination – to exclude chronic retention
  • Lower limbs – signs of pedal oedema
  • Digital rectal examination

Red Flags

  • Haematuria (link to Haematuria pages)
  • Incontinence particularly nocturnal enuresis (the latter is suggestive of high pressure chronic retention)
  • Back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abnormal digital rectal examination (DRE)
  • Any concerns over prostate or bladder cancer


  • Urinalysis
  • Frequency volume chart – a voiding diary for a 24-hour period. This will guide the differentiation between global polyuria, nocturnal polyuria or bladder storage disorder
  • Blood tests – Urea and Electrolytes (UEs), Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR), HbA1c/glucose, Calcium, Serum Osmolality if global polyuria (to exclude diabetes insipidus), Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) if indicated, BNP if suspicion of heart failure
  • Ultrasound scan KUB (USS KUB) if indicated, e.g. if abnormal UEs
  • Polysomnography – for suspected obstructive sleep apnoea (if meets referral criteria - see Sleep CRG)


Management of nocturia should be directed at the underlying cause. There are several lifestyle modifications which can help to improve nocturia:

  • Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol in the evening
  • Limit fluid intake around 3 hours before bedtime
  • Evening leg elevation if pedal oedema
  • Timing of medications – moving diuretics to mid-afternoon, administer calcium channel blockers in the morning
  • Ensure good sleeping conditions e.g. lighting, temperature, reducing daytime naps
The varied causes of nocturia make its management challenging. Specific management for each subdivision is given below:

Global polyuria

  • Primary polydipsia can be managed by fluid restriction
  • Poorly controlled diabetes and diabetes insipidus could benefit from endocrinology assessment

Nocturnal polyuria

  • Treating the underlying cause:
  • Mid-afternoon diuretics (Refer to Formulary Guidance: 2.2.2 Loop diuretics) can be used cautiously in selected cases, to attempt to off load fluid before night time to reduce urine output overnight due to fluid redistribution. If already on diuretics, consider moving a morning dose to a mid-afternoon dose
  • Desmopressin is a synthetic antidiuretic hormone (ADH) analogue thought to replace the circadian rhythm in the secretion of ADH. Desmopressin is now licenced for specialist use in the over 65s and can be used at a low dose in the evenings to attempt to reduce overnight urine output (refer to Formulary Guidance 6.5.2 Posterior pituitary hormones and antagonists)
  • Of note, Desmopressin should be used with caution in patients with conditions potentially causing fluid or electrolyte imbalance due to the risk of hyponatraemia and fluid overload

Bladder storage disorders


Referral Criteria

If symptoms persist despite following the suggested management for the underlying cause, then consider referral to the appropriate team (as per the management section).

Please include the results of relevant investigations and a list of management trialled.

Please note these referrals are subject to Pre-choice Triage.

Referral Instructions

Bladder storage disorders

e-Referral Service Selection:

  • Specialty: Urology
  • Clinic Type: Not Otherwise Specified
  • Service: DRSS-Eastern-Urology- Devon CCG- 15N

Referral Forms

DRSS referral form

Supporting Information


Nocturia - RACGP

Pathway Group

This guideline has been signed off on behalf of the NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group

Publication date: July 2020

Last updated: 03-07-2020


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