Overactive Bladder Symptoms

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 6, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 6, 2014

Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a syndrome with symptoms including an urgent need to urinate, possible urine leakage, and frequent trips to the bathroom. The symptoms of OAB may vary somewhat from person to person. Your doctor will usually know simply from your symptoms whether or not you are suffering from OAB.

OAB symptoms may interfere with your daily activities and disrupt sleep. The potential for frequent, hurried trips to the restroom and the possibility of incontinence can be embarrassing and stressful. Many people find that OAB makes them less social and more likely to stay home in order to avoid being caught without a restroom or in an embarrassing situation. These symptoms are understandably unpleasant in several ways.

Sudden Urges

OAB causes strong, sudden urges to urinate. This isn’t the same as when you wait too long to use the restroom and the urge gets gradually stronger as time passes. This symptom can arise quickly and without warning, even when you’ve recently urinated. In some cases, people with OAB may not be able to make it to a restroom in time, and urine involuntarily leaks from the bladder. This is called urinary incontinence.

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is the loss of bladder control that causes involuntary leakage of urine. It starts with a sudden, insuppressible bladder-muscle contraction when the bladder is filling with urine. There is usually little or no time to recognize the need to urinate. The leakage can be as little as several drops of urine or several ounces. This is perhaps the most disruptive symptom of OAB because it can create an embarrassing situation. Because you don’t know when leakage is about to occur, you may find yourself in need of fresh clothing at very inopportune moments.

Frequency

People with OAB feel the need to urinate more often than usual — usually eight or more times in 24 hours. They typically have less urine in the bladder compared to people with normal bladder function. If you have OAB, you may find yourself frequently having to leave social situations in order to relieve yourself. The frequency of OAB is not usually tied to consumption of fluids. The need to urinate often is present whether you limit fluid intake or not.

Nocturia

Nocturia is a condition that involves waking up to use the bathroom several times at night to the point that a sleep cycle is disrupted. This is an extension of the urinary frequency symptom. OAB will wake you throughout the night to send you to the restroom. This is very common among people who suffer from OAB. 

The symptoms of OAB are uncomfortable and disruptive. They may begin suddenly — for instance, after surgery or childbirth. They can also worsen over time with deterioration of the pelvic floor muscles. Regardless, they are something that should be discussed with your doctor as soon as you notice them. Early treatment of OAB can help reduce or even eliminate the symptoms. 

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