An Introduction to Overactive Bladder

Living with an overactive bladder is tough. You never know when the sudden urge to urinate will interrupt your day. Worse yet, you may be anxious about being caught without a nearby bathroom.

You aren't the only one with that fear. According to the National Association for Continence, 1 in 6 people have symptoms of overactive bladder (OAB). The rates of overactive bladder are almost equal for men and women. However, women start showing signs at an earlier age.

People coping with OAB may have trouble remembering what normal bladder function should be. They may not realize that most people get plenty of warning when it's time to find a bathroom, urinate less than eight times a day and typically awaken less than twice per night to go to the bathroom.

It's different for people with OAB. To start with, bathroom urges are more sudden and demanding, and bathroom trips are more frequent throughout the day. And, instead of sleeping soundly, they're up a few times every night to urinate.

If this describes you, you don't have to live with these symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help you reclaim control.

How your bladder works

To understand how your bladder becomes overactive, it helps to understand what your bladder does and how it is supposed to function. Urine is produced by your kidneys and then moves to your bladder, where it is held before being released from the body. The cells lining the inside of the bladder send signals to your brain to let it know when the bladder is getting full. Eventually the signals are so strong that you realize you have to go to the bathroom.

Most people have a reasonable amount of time from the signal to the time they get to a bathroom. Those with OAB usually don't. Instead, somewhere in the complex signaling, the bladder muscle may have spasms or start contracting earlier than it should. As a result, your bladder suddenly feels full.

"Wet" versus "dry"

Not everyone with symptoms of OAB has the same set of symptoms. Two-thirds of people with overactive bladders have the "dry" form. They get the powerful urge to urinate, but are able to hold it until they get to the bathroom. Men with OAB are more likely to have the dry type.

The remaining third have "wet" OAB, which can also be called urge incontinence. This means that you have sudden urges to urinate and little time to find a bathroom before urine leakage. Wet overactive bladder is much more common in women than men.

Reclaiming bladder control

Worse than the sudden urges and increased frequency is when these symptoms take over your life. Have you skipped activities out of fear of a bathroom emergency or accident? Do you feel shame and guilt? Is your condition interfering with intimacy in the bedroom?

Don't let it. By working with your doctor, you can get control through lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medical treatments.

You may even improve your overall health - OAB can also lead to injury. Rushing to the bathroom due to a sudden urge can cause falls and possibly fractures. Plus, getting checked for OAB will rule out other potentially serious conditions that cause similar symptoms.

Many people see OAB as a natural part of aging. It's not. You can enjoy life and have healthy, well-controlled bladder function. Even if you have been living with an overactive bladder, many options can help you regain your quality of life.

Reviewed by: David O. Sussman, D.O., FACOS

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