What is an overactive bladder?
Overactive bladder (OAB) is a relatively common condition. Typical symptoms include frequent urination, frequent nighttime urination, persistent urge to urinate, and urine leakage or incontinence.
An estimated 33 million Americans have OAB, reports the Urology Care Foundation, and as many as 30 percent of men experience symptoms. It’s possible that even more men have the condition, but never seek help. If you suspect you have OAB, talk to your doctor. There are a variety of treatments options that may help.
Several symptoms are commonly associated with OAB. You may have just one symptom or all of them.
OAB can cause an urgent need to urinate. You might need to urinate up to eight times a day. You might also experience nocturia, or the need to urinate at least twice overnight.
Another common symptom of OAB is urge incontinence. This happens when the urge to urinate is so strong that you can’t control it, causing urine to leak before you make it to the bathroom. It may occur when you laugh, sneeze, cough, or exercise.
Among men, many cases of OAB are caused by an enlarged prostate gland. Your prostate may get larger as you age. It can block your flow of urine, causing symptoms of OAB.
According to the National Association for Continence, up to 50 percent of men experience symptoms of an enlarged prostate by the time they turn 60. A whopping 90 percent of men experience symptoms by age 85.
An enlarged prostate is the cause of OAB in most men, but there are numerous other factors that can lead to symptoms. An infection in the bladder, bladder stones, or bladder cancer can all cause OAB. Neurological conditions, such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, can also lead to OAB because of nerve damage that results in sending incorrect signals to the bladder.
It’s also possible for temporary factors to cause symptoms of OAB. If you drink a lot of fluids, especially those that are caffeinated or contain alcohol, if you take medications that increase urine output, or if you are constipated, you might experience an increased need to urinate.
If you are experiencing symptoms of OAB, your doctor will want to give you a thorough physical exam. You will also likely need to have your urine tested to look for signs of infection or stones. Your doctor may also give you any of several available tests that evaluate the functioning of your bladder.
These include measuring how much urine is left in your bladder after going to the bathroom, measuring the rate of flow when you urinate, and measuring the pressure in and around your bladder. Based on test results, your doctor can give you a considered diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.
If you’re diagnosed with OAB, your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes. For example, they may advise you to:
- keep a record of your bathroom habits
- stick to a regular bathroom schedule
- use absorbent pads to manage leaks
- adjust your diet
- maintain a healthy weight
They may also encourage you to try a bladder training routine. This can help you learn to delay urinating when you feel the urge to go.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your symptoms, your doctor may recommend medications. If your OAB is caused by an enlarged prostate, alpha blockers can help relax the surrounding muscles to improve your urine flow. Other drugs can also help treat symptoms of OAB, including drugs that reduce spasms in your bladder. These medications can help reduce the urge to urinate.
In some cases, you might develop OAB when nerves in your body send inappropriate signals to your bladder. To help regulate those nerve signals, your doctor might use nerve stimulation.
For this treatment, your doctor will implant a small device under your skin near your tailbone. It will deliver electrical impulses to nerves running to your bladder. Like a pacemaker in your heart, these impulses will help control your bladder contractions. This treatment is reversible, and the device can be easily removed.
If the symptoms of your OAB are severe and can’t be controlled through other treatments, your doctor might suggest surgery. If your OAB is caused by an enlarged prostate, a surgeon can remove part of the gland. Your doctor can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of this treatment option.