When you experience symptoms of overactive bladder (OAB), you’ll likely seek treatment from your primary care doctor. Sometimes treatment won’t stop there. As with any medical condition, OAB can send you to several doctors before the problem is resolved.
The doctors that you see and the treatment you receive will depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity and cause of your OAB.
OAB is a chronic bladder condition. The bladder muscle contractions cause sudden urges to urinate.
Along with the different muscles involved in urination, the urinary system includes your:
- ureters, the tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder
- urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder and out of the body
Problems with any part of the urinary system can cause OAB. There can also be underlying causes behind your bladder symptoms. These include diabetes or certain neurological conditions.
The doctor you see will depend on the cause of your OAB. Not everyone with OAB will need a referral to a specialist. Many people will only need to visit their primary care doctor. If OAB might be an indication of an underlying condition, you’ll be referred to a specialist.
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Types of doctors
Family practice physician
If you’re experiencing symptoms of OAB, you should make an appointment with your primary care doctor. This doctor is the one you see for everything from a sprained muscle to an ear infection. They know your medical history and maintain a file on you.
For many people, their primary care doctor can analyze symptoms, conduct tests, and provide treatment. OAB is often a symptom of an infection or weak pelvic floor muscles, which your general doctor can treat. They may recommend pelvic floor exercises that can help in mild cases of OAB.
Sometimes your primary care doctor may believe you need to see a specialist. A specialist may help confirm a diagnosis or administer in-depth testing and treatment. Many insurance plans need you to see your primary doctor before seeing a specialist.
Urologist: Urinary tract conditions specialist
Urologists are doctors who specialize in the urinary tract and male reproductive organs, and are trained in general surgery. Urologists need certification by the American Board of Urology. They must pass a two-part test to get certified. They’re educated in urinary tract conditions and in conditions that include:
- male infertility
- renal transplants
- erectile dysfunction
- kidney function (nephrology)
Men who have OAB will often see a urologist for diagnosis and treatment. Urologist aren’t just for men. Women may also see a urologist for bladder conditions.
Nephrologist: Kidney conditions specialist
A nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of kidney diseases. Since the kidneys process fluids and send them to the bladder, nephrologists can handle OAB treatment.
While a urologist is in training, they’re required to have two years of internal medicine patient contact. The American Board of Internal Medicine certifies nephrologists.
Your primary care doctor may refer you to a nephrologist who will help you develop a nutrition guide to manage symptoms. A nephrologist will also check your kidneys to make sure they’re working to process fluids before they enter the bladder.
Nephrologists also have expertise in high blood pressure, fluid- and acid-based physiology, and chronic renal failure.
Gynecologist: Female reproductive specialist
A gynecologist is a specialist in the female reproductive system. Doctors often refer women with OAB to a gynecologist because of the close connection between the female reproductive organs and the urinary tract. A urogynecologist is a gynecologist with extra training in disorders of the urinary tract.
Your gynecologist may be able to identify the cause of your OAB as it relates to your hormones, reproductive organs, and pelvic floor muscles. This specialist can also prescribe a treatment plan to lessen or end the symptoms.
OAB and OAB-like symptoms can be due to underlying causes like diabetes or neurological conditions. Depending on the cause of your bladder symptoms, you may be referred to specialists for these conditions.
Bladder issues caused by neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis (MS) fall under the umbrella term “neurogenic bladder.” You’ll most likely be referred to both a urologist and a specialist who treats that condition.
In the case of diabetes, urinary issues are not due to OAB, although they may seem similar. If your doctor suspects your OAB-like symptoms are due to diabetes, tests like a urine glucose test or blood glucose test will help you doctor make a diagnosis. People with diabetes often visit a variety of doctors to help manage their condition.
When to call
Symptoms of OAB include:
- an urgent and uncontrollable need to urinate
- frequent involuntary loss of urine
- frequent urination (more than eight times in a 24-hour period)
- waking up more than once a night to use the bathroom (nocturia)
If you have severe OAB symptoms, there may be an underlying condition. Severe symptoms include:
You should make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms along with the common symptoms of OAB.
Once OAB has been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend home remedies or exercises that can help you manage your symptoms. If there is an underlying condition, your doctor or specialist will work with you to come up with a treatment plan.
These specialists represent the main treatment providers in cases of OAB, but you may come in contact with laboratory technicians, pharmacists, and nurses. An entire medical team plays a role in helping diagnose and treat OAB.