For some people, there are instances where that urge to urinate can be so strong, and come on so suddenly, they are unable to hold it. This is known as an overactive bladder. Many people suffering from an overactive bladder may become embarrassed by their condition and some even refrain from attending social situations in fear of having to frequently use the bathroom. An overactive bladder can typically be controlled when the source of the problem is identified.
An overactive bladder is the sudden urge to urinate that is hard to control, leading to the unintentional loss of urine (urinary incontinence). Overactive bladder is caused by a defect in the bladder’s ability to hold or store urine. Typically, the bladder will contract and empty when it is full. Individuals who have an overactive bladder tend to leak urine due to the effects of the bladder contracting at different times, no matter how full or empty it is.
The symptoms of an overactive bladder can be disruptive and hinder everyday life. Common symptoms include:
- A sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate
- Inability to hold urine
- Loss of urine
- Frequent urination, more than 8 times per day
- Frequent nighttime urination
The ability of the bladder to fill, store and empty urine is a complex process involving muscle activity, brain function and kidney function. A disruption anywhere along the process can produce symptoms of an overactive bladder. Generally an overactive bladder is the result of the bladder muscles involuntarily contracting, however, many other conditions can cause these symptoms, including:
- Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and stroke
- Poor kidney function
- Urinary tract infections
- Bladder cancer, tumors or stones
- Enlarged prostate
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Excessive caffeine intake
- Certain medications
An overactive bladder is not considered to be a part of the normal aging process; however, it is more common among older adults, as well as women. This may be due in part to the fact that as we age, our bodies become more vulnerable to the disorders that can produce symptoms of overactive bladder. These conditions include:
- Enlarged prostate
If you are experiencing symptoms of an overactive bladder, your doctor will likely complete a physical examination and go over your medical history, as well as other tests to identify what may be contributing to your symptoms. You may also be referred to a urologist to assess your bladder function. Diagnostic tests include:
- Urine sample
- Neurological exam
- Ultrasound of the bladder
- Measurement of post void residual urine
- Measurement of urine flow rate
- Electromyography to evaluate bladder nerve impulses
- X-ray of the bladder
- Search for bladder abnormalities using cystoscopy
In order to best treat your overactive bladder, your doctor will likely recommend a variety of options including:
- Limiting fluid consumption
- Bladder training
- Double voiding
- Urinating every 2 or 4 hours
- Kegel exercises
- Using a catheter to empty the bladder fully
- Lining the underwear with absorbent pads
- Medications to relax the bladder
- Surgery to increase the bladder volume, in extreme cases
- Removal of the bladder and replacement with a bag to collect urine, in extreme cases
You may be able to control the symptoms of overactive bladder by making some changes to your lifestyle. These changes include:
- Sustaining a healthy weight. If you are obese or overweight you may have symptoms of overactive bladder, including urinary incontinence due to excess weight pushing on the bladder. Losing weight may help to eliminate your symptoms.
- Controlling fluid intake. Be sure to ask your doctor how much fluid you need to be taking in and stick to that amount. As long as you are taking in a safe amount of fluids, there is no need to drink in excess of that amount. Simply restricting your fluid intake may help to relieve your symptoms.
- If you find that caffeinated or alcoholic beverages worsen your symptoms, avoid them.
Although there are no alternative medical procedures that have been deemed effective in the treatment of overactive bladder, there are some that may be helpful in treating your symptoms, including:
- Using Biofeedback. Biofeedback helps you to gauge and obtain feedback from your body with the help of electrical sensors. These sensors allow you to learn how to make slight changes like contracting your pelvic muscles upon feelings of urgency in order to avoid incontinence.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is the use of thin needles to treat certain conditions. Many health professionals believe that acupuncture may be effective in treating the symptoms of overactive bladder.
You may be able to prevent the onset of symptoms of overactive bladder by choosing to make subtle changes in your lifestyle, including:
- Engaging in daily physical activity
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- Not smoking
- Managing any underlying medical conditions
- Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles through Kegal exercises
If you are having symptoms of an overactive bladder, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor. You may want to write down your symptoms and frequency of urination, as well as a list of all of your current medications and any questions that you may have. If you are living with an overactive bladder, it can be difficult at times.
Seeking out support groups or Internet resources may help you to cope with this issue and instruct you how to educate your family and friends about overactive bladder. You should not have to go through this alone, and support groups can provide you with coping strategies and can give you the motivation to try home remedies and keep a positive outlook.
Many people suffer from an overactive bladder. Generally, no one cause is found, and an overactive bladder is rather a collection of symptoms that may require a variety of treatments. Many patients need to try a variety of approaches to find which ones work best for them. Keep a positive outlook and seek out support when needed.