Overactive bladder (OAB) is characterized by the uncontrollable need to urinate that can lead to involuntary release of urine.
The amount of urine involuntarily released through OAB varies from a few drops to a full bladder.
The condition is more common in women and people over age 40, according to the National Institute on Aging. But the problem can occur at any age. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that more than 10 percent of the women in the study, whose average age was 22, experienced OAB.
Causes of OAB can include:
- weak bladder muscles
- damage to nerves that control urination
- blockage from an enlarged prostate in men
- irritation to the bladder wall
OAB is more common in women over age 40 because the muscles controlling urination weaken over time. Factors contributing to weakened muscles include the physical pressure of pregnancy and childbirth.
Some people have a genetic predisposition to OAB. Urinary incontinence sometimes runs in families. Additionally, men who develop OAB should have a prostate exam to determine whether or not the urinary tract is constricted.
If you think you have OAB, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out other conditions that can be mistaken for OAB. Other conditions that can have symptoms similar to OAB include:
- urinary tract infections (UTIs), including infections of the kidneys and the bladder
- pressure from an enlarged prostate
Both of these conditions require treatment.
There is no normal number of bathroom visits per day, which makes it difficult to know how many trips to the bathroom might indicate OAB. A very general guideline is that making fewer than 10 visits to the bathroom per day suggests normal bladder function. It’s important to acknowledge if you’re urinating more often than usual or if you feel an uncontrollable need to urinate.
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids daily. You can decide the right amount for you, but 64 ounces a day of nonalcoholic, caffeine-free fluids can be your guide. Too much liquid will increase your bathroom visits whether or not you have OAB.
There may be a relationship between what you’re drinking and your OAB. Many people find that drinking alcohol irritates the bladder and increases urination. Heavy alcohol consumption can also contribute to loss of control of bladder muscles.
Caffeine increases the frequency of urination and can worsen OAB. Limit your daily alcohol and caffeine consumption if you have OAB.
A healthy sex life doesn’t cause OAB. In fact, for women, a healthy sex life could actually help OAB. Vaginal contractions during intercourse and orgasm are a workout for the muscles of the pelvic floor, also known as Kegel muscles. Strong Kegel muscles can help women with OAB control urination by strengthening their pelvic floor.
Getting up more than twice a night is common for people with OAB. That means that people who experience OAB often don’t get enough sleep, which in turn can lead to depression.
People with OAB often feel embarrassed by their condition. Feelings of shame and isolating yourself to hide your condition can contribute to feelings of depression and loneliness.
Your doctor can prescribe medicines to help control your bladder muscles. There are also surgeries for OAB in which tissue is connected from one side of the abdomen to the other to support the bladder.
You can manage, improve, and maybe control your OAB with some lifestyle strategies. For example:
- Strengthen pelvic muscles with exercise.
- Keep a diary of how often you visit the bathroom. This can help you determine which factors help or hurt your OAB.
- Reduce daily consumption of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
- Put yourself on bathroom schedule. Visit the bathroom hourly, or more often, without fail. This keeps your bladder from being too full.
Even though OAB can be hard to discuss, it’s important to talk about it with your doctor. You might find you have an underlying condition that can be treated. You’ll learn about medical treatment options, such as medications and surgery. Don’t let OAB prevent you from enjoying your life.