How to Control Overactive Bladder

Behavioral strategies for overactive bladder and incontinence

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

(RxWiki News) Overactive bladder can have a big impact on your quality of life. But there are simple things that you can do to change your behavior, and help relieve your symptoms.

If you are diagnosed with overactive bladder, you have urinary urgency, or the sudden and compelling urge to urinate. There are medications you can take, but one of the first lines of treatment is behavioral intervention. This means making changes to your lifestyle, and training yourself to suppress the feeling of urgency and improve continence.

"Ask your nurse or doctor about behavioral strategies for overactive bladder."

In a review article published in Nursing Times, Angela Patterson advocates for a more standardized approach to treating overactive bladder. Nurses are often on the front lines of patient treatment. Patterson is the lead clinical nurse specialist in bladder and bowel dysfunction for The Continence Service at the Bangor Community Hospital, in Northern Ireland.

In addition to negative impacts on social, professional and personal life, overactive bladder is also associated with depression, urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections, and institutionalisation in elderly people who are affected. But the causes of overactive bladder are not well understood, and there's not much evidence to support current treatments, Patterson writes.

In her peer-reviewed article, Patterson reviews the current evidence to support behavioral treatments.

Bladder retraining

Bladder retraining involves trying to extend intervals between visits to the bathroom. The goal is to re-establish a normal voiding schedule, increase bladder capacity, and suppress feelings of urgency.

This technique sometimes involves pelvic floor exercises, or Kegel exercises, to strengthen the muscles. Patterson writes that this technique is well supported with evidence, but to have success, patients must fully follow the program and advice from their doctors.

Weight loss and smoking cessation

Losing weight and quitting a smoking habit are often recommended for patients with overactive bladder. Obesity is a risk factor for overactive bladder, as increased weight presses down on your bladder and urethra. Smoking and chronic coughing are thought to irritate the bladder.

Patterson found that some researchers suggested weight loss and smoking cessation do help, while others wrote that the evidence base was weak. However, Patterson says that losing weight and quitting cigarettes are healthy choices that should be encouraged in patients, regardless of the effect on overactive bladder.

Caffeine intake

Caffeine is a contentious subject among researchers who study overactive bladder. Caffeine is found in coffee, chocolate, tea, soda, and many other goods we consume every day. It's widely thought that caffeine is a diuretic, which increases the rate of urination. There have been studies to support this, but there are also studies that contradict those findings. It's been suggested that other elements of coffee and chocolate, such as artificial sweeteners, chemicals, and acidity are to blame for the diuretic qualities, rather than the caffeine itself.

Patterson suggests that caffeine be dealt with in terms of moderation. If a person drinks a large amount of coffee, it may be suggested that they reduce their intake.

Patterson concludes that behavioral interventions for overactive bladder empower the patient to take control of their symptoms, but there needs to be a commitment to the programs both by the patient and the doctor or nurses. She added that more research is needed to clear up lingering questions before a standardized treatment can be created.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 21, 2011
Last Updated:
November 28, 2011