Overactive bladder is a condition that can be both annoying and embarrassing. Yet if you suffer from this malady, you’re in good company: Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that around 33 million Americans have an overactive bladder (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2011). Overactive bladder comes in many forms, including:
- urinary urgency (inability to postpone urination)
- frequency (having to go at least eight times a day)
- urge incontinence (leakage of urine)
- nocturia (too many night-time trips to the bathroom)
Read on to learn some common treatments and lifestyle changes you can make to help solve these problems.
Overactive bladder is common—and treatable. In fact, lifestyle changes and behavioral modification are usually recommended before medicine or surgery. Begin by keeping a log to help you track some details about your situation. For 24 hours, record:
- your input: how much fluid you consume
- your output: the number of times that you urinate
- the number of incidents/accidents that occur: for example, if you leak urine
- when these incidents occur: for example, after laughing or coughing
Certain foods and drinks can make your symptoms worse if you already have an overactive bladder. Try to avoid these—or better yet, eliminate them:
- spicy foods, such as those containing hot peppers or curry
- citrus fruits and juices, such as orange, tangerine, and grapefruit
- tomatoes/tomato products, including spaghetti sauce and tomato paste
- coffee and tea, both caffeinated and decaffeinated
- alcoholic beverages
Healthy bowel habits can help improve bladder problems. Being constipated can cause extra pressure on your bladder, which can make you feel like you have to urinate. To stay regular, try these tips:
- Eat more fiber. Bran cereal, beans, fresh fruits, and whole wheat bread can all help keep things moving.
- Work it out. A regular exercise program can help you maintain bowel regularity.
- Try a prune cocktail. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that a daily dose of one cup of applesauce, one cup of wheat bran (unprocessed), and three quarters of a cup of prune juice may do the trick (Cleveland Clinic, 2010).
Losing weight can also help cut down on symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who are overweight have a greater risk of developing a particular type of urinary incontinence called stress incontinence (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Stress incontinence is when a person unintentionally loses urine during physical activity due to weakened pelvic muscles. Possible physical activities in which urine might be lost include including laughing, coughing, or exercise. It is the most common kind of urinary incontinence that women suffer from (NIH, 2011).
In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to improve your bladder symptoms. For example:
- If you’re a smoker, quit. Cigarette smoke irritates your bladder muscle, and smoker’s cough can lead to urine leakage.
- Choose drinks wisely. Some beverages can improve your bladder symptoms, while others can worsen them. You should regularly consume three to four glasses of non-irritating fluids such as water each day. Avoid acidic or caffeinated beverages, which can worsen your symptoms.
- Work your bladder muscles. Your bladder muscles can be trained like other muscles in your body. With your doctor’s guidance, you can learn techniques to condition your bladder muscles to hold urine more effectively and decrease feelings of urgency.
Not everyone needs medicine to treat overactive bladder. However, your doctor may recommend anticholinergics to help control the muscle spasms that lead to overactive bladder. Some common anticholinergics include:
Antidepressants such as Norfranil, Tipramine, and Tofranil are also sometimes prescribed for overactive bladder.
When lifestyle changes and medication fail to improve symptoms, nerve stimulation is sometimes recommended. In sacral nerve stimulation, a neurotransmitter device, which sends gentle electrical impulses to help improve bladder control, is implanted under your skin in the upper buttocks. Though the Cleveland Clinic maintains that nerve stimulation can’t cure overactive bladder, it has been shown to sometimes be successful at decreasing frequency and wetting episodes (Cleveland Clinic, 2010).
Dealing with the symptoms of overactive bladder can be frustrating and embarrassing—but choices you make can help.
Charting your symptoms to track progress, avoiding foods and drinks that exacerbate bladder problems, developing healthy bowel habits, and retraining your bladder muscles may help you avoid medicines or more invasive medical procedures.
So do your part to stay healthy and keep symptoms under control.