Overactive Bladder or BPH: Which Is It?

Written by Steve Williams | Published on February 3, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on February 3, 2014

Separate the differences in these two conditions.

Saying “No” to the Urge to Go

As you get older, you hope to stay healthy. Even so, some signs of aging might creep up on you. But having bladder trouble isn't something you have to accept.

There are two common causes for bladder problems. One is an overactive bladder disorder (OAB). The other is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), more commonly known as prostate enlargement.

Learn more about these two conditions, and how to tell them apart.

What Is an Overactive Bladder Disorder?

According to the Urology Care Foundation, around 33 million Americans suffer from OAB. And the condition tends to affect more women than men.

The main symptom of OAB is a sudden urge to urinate. It can be embarrassing and stressful, and can get in the way of your day-to-day life. Fortunately, it’s highly treatable.

Symptoms of an Overactive Bladder

There are a few things that might indicate you have OAB:

  • leaking urine: When you feel the urge to urinate, you may also leak a small amount of urine. This is called “urgency incontinence.”
  • frequent urination: Using the bathroom more often than you normally do may be a sign of OAB.
  • waking up at night to urinate: Using the bathroom more than once during the night could also mean you suffer from OAB.

What Is BPH?

According to the National Association for Continence, as many as 50 percent of men will experience BPH symptoms by the time they reach age 60.

Why does this happen? Hormone levels change as you get older. As a result, the prostate, which is located near the bladder, can start to enlarge. This can cause irritation or even obstruction.

As the word benign suggests, the problem isn’t life threatening, but it can be extremely uncomfortable.

More Symptoms of BPH

BPH has a number of symptoms, including:

  • a sudden need to urinate that can’t be put off
  • needing to go to the bathroom more often during the night
  • having to strain in order to urinate
  • a weak urine stream
  • dribbling after finishing urinating

Another common symptom of BPH is feeling like your bladder has not fully emptied even after using the bathroom.

Spotting the Difference Between an Overactive Bladder and BPH

OAB and BPH share some symptoms. Needing to urinate more frequently is one of them. Not feeling like you can put off urinating is another.

However, there are some key differences that can help you tell the conditions apart. Assessing your risk factors may help you figure out your likelihood of having either OAB or BPH.

Sex Matters

If you’re a woman, you can immediately rule out BPH, as you don’t have a prostate. OAB risk factors for women include multiple childbirths and going through the menopause.

Men can develop both OAB and BPH. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to discount one or the other. But, there are some risk factors that can help you tell the conditions apart.

Your Health

Poor heart health can make men more likely to develop BPH. Existing health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and peripheral artery disease also could contribute.

A poor diet and not being physically active can increase your risk of developing BPH. These lifestyle features can make BPH symptoms worse.

Obesity and diabetes are also risk factors for developing OAB.

Erectile Dysfunction

Men with BPH are at a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), an inability to get and maintain an erection.

While you can have OAB at the same time as ED, the two aren’t closely linked. The presence of ED may be one way to tell whether you’re more likely to be suffering an enlarged prostate or OAB.

Your Health History

Having family members with BPH means you’re more likely to suffer from it.

Likewise, a family history of OAB problems can mean that you’re more likely to develop one. If you’ve suffered bladder problems in the past, you’re at a higher risk of developing OAB.

It is important to remember that BPH and OAB can occur together. See your doctor to get a firm diagnosis.

Get Help: Seeking Treatment for BPH or an Overactive Bladder

If you’re suffering symptoms of either OAB or BPH, you might feel embarrassed and put off going to your doctor. But both conditions are highly treatable, so there’s no need to suffer.

Your doctor will be able to tell you what treatment option is right for you. Unless your symptoms are severe, it’s unlikely you’ll need surgery. Medication and bladder training exercises can help get OAB and BPH under control.

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