Having overactive bladder (OAB) refers to feeling frequent or sudden urges to urinate, or experiencing an accident. Urinary incontinence is when you lose control of your bladder. It’s can be a symptom of a condition like a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Read on to learn more about the differences between OAB and urinary incontinence.

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.


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.


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.


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:

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra)
  • Fosfomycin (Monurol)
  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
  • Cephalexin (Keflex)
  • Ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
  • Azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax)
  • Doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin)

Your doctor may recommend low-dose antibiotics for a period of time if you’re prone to frequent UTIs. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, so it’s recommended that you be on as short a course of antibiotics as possible.

For women prone to UTIs, vaginal estrogen and cranberry juice or tablets can be used to help reduce the risk of developing future UTIs.

Hospitalization may be recommended if a UTI is severe enough to involve the kidneys or require intravenous antibiotics.

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.

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.

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.