Gaining Control and Taking Back Your Life

There are many ways to treat overactive bladder

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Many people don't want to talk about the problem - even with their doctor.

Some think that having to urinate all the time is just a temporary issue, that it can't be helped, or is just part of aging. Others have resigned to letting their dysfunctional bladder pretty much control their lives.

It doesn't have to be that way, because there are dozens of ways to treat overactive bladder.

What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder (OAB) syndrome causes the frequent, sudden and urgent need to go to the bathroom, sometimes causing incontinence. Symptoms include:

  • Urinating more than eight times a day or more than once at night - frequency
  • A strong and sudden urge to urinate immediately - urgency
  • The involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder - urge incontinence
  • Frequent urination during the night is called nocturia.

How the bladder works

The bladder operates like a balloon. It fills up with waste products that have flowed from the kidneys and holds one or two cups of urine. A circular muscle called a sphincter controls the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body.

When full and it's time to empty, a muscle in the wall of the bladder - the detrusor muscle - contracts to empty the release the urine.

If the bladder contracts too much, the result is an overactive bladder

What causes overactive bladder?

All of the underlying reasons that can cause the bladder to go haywire remain unclear, but the following can contribute to the condition:

  • Side effects of medications, including diuretics among others
  • Anything that obstructs the bladder, including stones, polyps or tumors
  • Bladder or urinary tract infections
  • Prostate problems in men
  • A "dropped" or prolapsed bladder in women
  • Neurological conditions, including Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and strokes
  • The normal aging process

How common is overactive bladder?

This condition affects men, women and children of any age.

  • An estimated 33 million people in the United States suffer from OAB.
  • 12.2 million adults have urge incontinence.
  • Incidence of overactive bladder increases with age.
  • After age 60, men are more likely than women to have OAB.
  • After age 74, an estimated 42 percent of men and 32 percent of women suffer from the condition.

Impact of OAB

Due to the nature of the condition and its unpredictability, overactive bladder can affect sufferers emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically. Left untreated, OAB can impact work, travel, recreational activities and relationships - virtually all aspects of life.

That's why it's so important to talk to a doctor and get help.

How to get help for OAB

This condition is so common that most physicians can provide help and guidance. A family doctor is a good place to start. 

You may be referred to a urologist, a doctor who specializes in the urinary tract and male reproductive system.

Diagnosing OAB generally includes several tests, including:

  • A physical exam and medical history
  • A urinalysis to check for bacteria, protein, blood or puss in the urine
  • Urodynamic tests - special tests to measure bladder function and performance
  • Ultrasound imaging
  • Specialized tests may also be ordered to measure a number of bladder and urinary tract functions

How is overactive bladder treated?

A number of treatments are available to help sufferers regain bladder control. Combining therapies usually offers the best outcomes. Options include:

  • Behavioral modifications - dietary changes, managing fluids, biofeedback, bladder retraining
  • Pelvic muscle exercises
  • Medications
  • Botox injections
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Surgery in the most serious cases

What types of medications are available to treat OAB?

A number of different medications are available to treat the urgency and frequency symptoms of OAB. They help to relax the bladder muscles that contract too much and cause the problems.

Here's a list of the most commonly prescribed medications:

  • Buscopan
  • Detrol
  • Ditropan
  • Enablex
  • Gelnique (a gel)
  • Levsin
  • Oxytrol
  • Sanctura
  • Toviaz
  • Vesicare

Gaining control

Overactive bladder does not need to interfere with an active lifestyle. Talk with your doctor and learn what treatment options may be best for you.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 12, 2011
Overactive Bladder
Last Updated:
April 13, 2011