Overactive bladder (OAB) is a common condition in bladder function that causes the sudden and frequent need to urinate. It is a common problem affecting millions of Americans, especially older adults.
Urine is stored in an organ called the bladder. Normally, when it is not full of urine, the bladder is relaxed. When the stored urine level increases and bladder gets full, it sends signals to your brain telling you that you should go to the bathroom. When you urinate, the bladder muscles contract or squeeze to expel the urine out of your body.
With overactive bladder, the nerve signals between the bladder and the brain tell your brain to urinate even when your bladder isn’t full. The muscles in the bladder contract involuntarily, leading to urination even when the amount of urine in the bladder is low. This leads to urinary incontinence, or a loss of bladder control.
Signs and symptoms of overactive bladder
The most common sign of overactive bladder is the sudden urge to urinate, and difficulty controlling that urge. This leads to “urge incontinence,” or an immediate involuntary loss of urine. Leaking urine throughout the day is also common. Overactive bladder is associated with frequent urination (8 or more times a day) and being woken up at night to pee (“nocturia”), often more than 2 times a night. Many people with overactive bladders say that it is hard to get through the day without many trips to the bathroom and they fear not being able to get to a bathroom when they need one.
Having an overactive bladder is a source of distress and embarrassment for many. The need to urinate frequently and a limited ability to control one’s bladder can lead to social isolation, limiting one’s work or social life, and other disruptions in normal daily life. It also can lead to disrupted sleep, anxiety, sexuality issues, and emotional stress.
What causes an overactive bladder?
There are many causes for overactive bladder, and doctors are still learning more about these causes through research.
Overactive bladder can occur without any underlying health issues, but there are some known health problems that are associated with it. For example, nerve damage and neurological disorders like stroke or multiple sclerosis are associated with low bladder control. Overactive bladder is also common in people with diabetes and with enlarged prostates. Parkinson’s disease, herniated discs, and having had back or pelvis surgery also can lead to overactive bladders. People with weak pelvic muscles, such as women after pregnancy, can experience urine leakage.
Aging also can lead to overactive bladder for both men and women. For women, menopause is sometimes associated with an overactive bladder.
Some medications and foods can make it harder to control overactive bladders. Medications called diuretics can cause increased urine production, and other medications require you to take them with a lot of fluids. Foods that are acidic like citrus and tomatoes, and drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and soda may make bladder problems worse.
What can help an overactive bladder?
For many with overactive bladders, behavioral strategies and lifestyle changes can be extremely helpful. Setting bathroom or “voiding” schedules, doing pelvic floor strengthening exercises (“Kegel” exercises), and avoiding foods and drinks that make bladder problems worse all have been shown to help overactive bladders.
If these behavioral strategies and exercises do not work, doctors also can prescribe medications to help calm the bladder.
In addition to these changes and treatments, wearing absorbent pads or underwear can help to hide any unwanted bladder leakage.
If you have any of the signs or symptoms of an overactive bladder, a doctor can help you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with the best urologist in NYC.