Overactive bladder involves the sudden urge to urinate and can lead to leaking urine. It’s most common in older adults, particularly older women, but it can sometimes occur in young people.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a type of urinary incontinence. It’s the sudden need to urinate that can lead to leaking urine. OAB is also called urge incontinence.

A 2022 study in Colombia estimated that the condition affects 31.7% of people, but other research has found varying results.

Overactive bladder is more common in women and those who are middle-aged or older. But the condition can occur at any age, including in children and young people.

It’s possible to have overactive bladder in your 20s, but it’s uncommon.

Research from 2015 found that among nearly 2,000 women averaging age 21, 12.4% reported having urinary incontinence. Of those, 3.4% had urge urinary incontinence (overactive bladder), while another 1.9% experienced multiple types of urinary incontinence.

Another study from 2016 found that among men in their 30s and 40s, only around 5% experienced urge incontinence.

OAB is more common in older women in particular because the muscles controlling urination may weaken over time. Factors contributing to weakened muscles include pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.

Overactive bladder occurs less often among young adults, but it can still happen. Causes may include:

  • weak bladder muscles, which can be caused by being overweight
  • damage to nerves that control urination, which may result from conditions including diabetes, stroke, and multiple sclerosis
  • long-term constipation
  • genetics
  • surgery that damages the pelvic floor muscles
  • blockage from an enlarged prostate in men, though this is more common in older adults

It’s important for men who develop OAB to have a prostate exam to check whether the urinary tract is constricted.

With overactive bladder, you’ll experience at least two of the following:

  • urinating at least eight times during the day or at least twice at night
  • feeling a sudden need to urinate
  • leaking urine after feeling the need to urinate

You may also urinate while sleeping, coughing, or exercising. It’s best to talk with a doctor if you’re urinating more often than usual or if you feel an uncontrollable need to urinate.

Your doctor may check for overactive bladder using the following tests:

  • urine test to look for kidney problems or a bladder infection
  • ultrasound to check for abnormalities in your kidneys and bladder
  • cystoscopy to look for damage in your bladder and urethra
  • blood tests to check kidney function

If you think you have OAB, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out other conditions. Conditions with similar symptoms include urinary tract infections (UTIs) and pressure from an enlarged prostate.

Treatment is often needed for both of these conditions.

It may sound like drinking less fluid would help with OAB, but this isn’t the case. In fact, not drinking enough liquids leads to concentrated urine and may irritate the bladder.

It’s also important for your health to drink plenty of fluids daily to keep from becoming dehydrated. A light yellow urine color is an indicator that you’re drinking enough.

What types of drinks should I avoid?

The types of fluid you drink may be linked to overactive bladder. In particular, drinking alcohol may irritate your bladder and cause you to urinate more.

Caffeine increases the frequency of urination and can worsen OAB. It may be helpful to reduce your daily caffeine consumption if you have OAB by limiting or avoiding:

  • coffee
  • tea
  • soda

Overactive bladder may be linked to depression. A 2016 study found that 27.5% of participants with overactive bladder also had depression.

Getting up more than twice a night is common for people with OAB. That means that you may not get enough sleep, which in turn can lead to depression.

People with OAB may also feel self-conscious about their condition. If you isolate yourself to try to hide OAB, it may contribute to feelings of depression and loneliness.

Your doctor can prescribe medicines to help control or relax your bladder muscles. These include:

Electrical nerve stimulation can also be used to stimulate and adjust your bladder’s reflexes. If no other treatments are effective and overactive bladder is affecting your quality of life, surgery is also an option.

You can manage, improve, and possibly help control your OAB on your own with some lifestyle strategies. For example:

  • Strengthen your pelvic muscles with exercise: Try Kegel exercises to strengthen your muscles and help control overactive bladder.
  • Maintain a moderate weight: If you’re overweight, there may be increased pressure on your bladder. In this case, losing weight may help with overactive bladder.
  • Keep a diary of how often you visit the bathroom: This can help you determine which factors help or worsen your OAB.
  • Drink fewer alcoholic and caffeinated beverages: Stopping or reducing your consumption of these drinks may help overactive bladder.
  • Put yourself on a bathroom schedule: Visit the bathroom at set times, then slowly increase the amount of time between each visit.
  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit: Smoking may worsen overactive bladder.

OAB is unlikely to go away by itself. Still, you can manage your symptoms with treatments including medications and lifestyle changes.

If you take medications for overactive bladder, you’ll likely use them for around 6 months to 1 year. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you take them for longer. Depending on the treatment, it may take over a month for OAB symptoms to improve.

OAB is uncommon in young adults, but it can still happen. While it may be hard to discuss, it’s important to talk about it with your doctor. You may find you have an underlying condition that can be treated.

You’ll also learn about treatment options, such as medications and surgery. Certain lifestyle changes may help you manage the condition.