Overactive Bladder vs. Urinary Incontinence and UTI: What's the Difference?
What Are Overactive Bladder and Urinary Incontinence?
Overactive bladder (OAB) is a condition in which the bladder can no longer hold urine normally. If you have an overactive bladder, you might often feel a sudden urge to urinate or experience an accident.
Urinary incontinence isn’t a condition; it’s a symptom. Incontinence could be a sign of something simple like too much fluid consumption. But, it also can signal a more serious problem, like a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Lifestyle Causes of Overactive Bladder
OAB happens when the muscles that control bladder function start to act involuntarily. There are many possible reasons for OAB, including lifestyle. For example, you may experience OAB if you drink alcohol and caffeine in large quantities.
Alcohol and caffeine act as diuretics, which cause the body to produce more urine. Simply drinking lots of fluids in general—caffeinated, alcoholic, or not—can contribute to OAB symptoms.
Medical Causes of Overactive Bladder
Serious health problems can also lead to OAB. A stroke or nervous system problems, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson’s disease, can cause overactive bladder. Diabetes and kidney disease can too.
In men, an enlarged prostate often results in OAB. Acute UTIs can lead to symptoms that are similar to those of OAB, in both men and women.
Treating Overactive Bladder
Treatment options OAB vary. Kegel exercises can help by strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor. Weight loss and limiting fluid intake can also help.
Your doctor may prescribe oral medications to relieve symptoms. More invasive treatments include Botox injections into the bladder to better control muscle movement.
Causes of UTIs
The most common UTIs occur when bacteria travel up the urethra, the tube that connects to your bladder and leads urine out of your body. Women have a shorter urethra, making it easier for bacteria to bacteria reach the bladder and grow. According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), women are four times more likely to get a UTI than men are.
Sexual intercourse can lead to a type of bladder infection called cystitis. An infection of the urethra can also occur when bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. After menopause, the loss of estrogen also makes the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection.
Risks of UTIs
A UTI can be limited to the urethra and bladder. Or, it can extend up through the ureters and into the kidneys. If the kidneys become infected, your organs can experience injury that’s more serious.
However, if the UTI is limited to the urethra and bladder, the result is usually limited to discomfort until the infection is cleared up. If a UTI isn’t treated promptly, it can spread throughout the urinary system.
Urinary Incontinence and Other Symptoms
Urinary incontinence is a common sign of a UTI. But, other symptoms typically occur along with the frequent urge to urinate. Someone with a UTI may also experience a burning sensation during urination. Urine may also have a strong odor. Men with UTIs may experience rectal pain, while women with UTIs can have pelvic pain.
If you have these symptoms, you should be evaluated by a doctor. If you’re diagnosed with a UTI, your doctor may prescribe a regimen of antibiotics.
A Final Word
The sudden and frequent urge to urinate is common in both OAB and a UTI. But if you don’t have any other symptoms, like discomfort while urinating, you may be experiencing an OAB rather than a UTI.
Though both problems can be annoying, they’re treatable. Talk with your doctor if you experience changes in your urination patterns, including frequency and urgency.
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