Sign up for our newsletter
Get health tips, wellness advice, and more

Thanks for signing up!
You've been added to our list and will hear from us soon.

See all Healthline's newsletters »
Advertisement

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 is when you lose control of your bladder. It isn’t a condition; it’s a symptom. Incontinence could be a sign of something simple like too much fluid consumption. It also can signal a more serious problem, like a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Causes of OAB and UTI

Causes

OAB: Lifestyle causes

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.

OAB: Medical causes

Serious health conditions can also lead to OAB. A stroke or nervous system problems, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson’s disease, can cause OAB. 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.

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 reach the bladder and grow compared to men. About 50­–60 percent of women will get a UTI in their lifetime.

Cystitis is the most common type of UTI in adult premenopausal women. The infection involves only the bladder and urethra. These infections typically occur when bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Some women are more prone to these infections following sexual activity. Also, the loss of estrogen after menopause makes the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection.

Treating OAB and UTI

Treatment

OAB

Treatment options for OAB vary. Pelvic floor exercises can help by strengthening the muscles around the bladder neck and urethra. Weight loss and the timing of 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.

UTI

Since a variety of bacteria cause urinary tract infections, antibiotics are the first line of treatment. The type of antibiotic prescribed by your doctor will depend on your current health, the severity of your UTI and the kind of bacteria you have. Antibiotics commonly recommended for UTIs include:

Your doctor may recommend low-dose antibiotics for a period of time if you’re prone to frequent UTIs. Hospitalization may be recommended if a UTI is severe enough to involve the kidneys or require intravenous antibiotics.

Risks of UTIs

Risk Factors

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 and into the bloodstream as well. This can lead to a life-threatening infection known as sepsis.

UTI and other symptoms

Symptoms

Urinary incontinence is a common sign of a UTI. Other symptoms typically occur along with the frequent urge to urinate. Someone with a UTI may also experience a burning sensation during urination or notice blood in their urine. Urine may also have a strong odor or a dark color. Men with UTIs may experience rectal pain, while women with UTIs may have back or pelvic pain.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should be evaluated by a doctor. If you’re diagnosed with a UTI, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics.

A final word

Outlook

The sudden and frequent urge to urinate is common in both OAB and a UTI. If you don’t have any other symptoms, like discomfort while urinating, you may be experiencing an OAB rather than a UTI. The symptoms of OAB will be ongoing while symptoms of a UTI are sudden and may also be associated with a fever.

Though both problems can be annoying, they’re treatable and do require medical attention for the correct diagnosis and treatment. Talk with your doctor if you experience any changes in your urination patterns, including frequency and urgency.

Read This Next

Botox for Overactive Bladder
How to Treat an Overactive Bladder at Night
Overactive Bladder in Children: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Cephalexin and Alcohol: Are They Safe to Use Together?
Can You Have Overactive Bladder at a Young Age?
Add a comment
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement