It Came on Suddenly

Nan Williams, a 61-year-old retiree living with her husband in Dunkirk, Maryland, talks to iVillage about her experience with overactive bladder.

An Empty Desk
"My symptoms of overactive bladder began when I was 45, seemingly overnight. Suddenly I was getting uncontrollable urges to urinate and I would have to rush to the bathroom every hour on the hour during work. I was an analyst for the federal government at the time, and I know my coworkers must have wondered why I kept running away from my desk.

"I was determined not to let my symptoms stop me from doing things I wanted to do. Basically, I wore a pad all the time. I knew where the ladies' rooms were in every mall I went to, and when we were on the road, my husband got used to having to stop frequently at rest stops—unless we were near a public library. I discovered that library restrooms tend to be the cleanest.

"I didn't say anything to anyone about my problem for about a year, during which time my symptoms got progressively worse. I was just embarrassed about it and I didn't know how to approach my doctor to discuss it. I was doing research on my own, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The urges would come on suddenly and frequently. Finally, I decided to tell my boss and my coworkers what I was dealing with, and surprisingly, I felt much better opening up to my coworkers instead of keeping it to myself. I realized that there were other ladies experiencing the same symptoms. I finally talked to my doctor about it, too, and ultimately I went to a urologist."

Good Care and Bad Care
"I stayed with my first urologist for three years, but I wasn't really happy with the care I received from him. He tried several medications, none of which worked very well and some of which had some pretty horrible side effects. Then he said, 'Maybe you're not emptying enough,' and he recommended stretching my urethra. I hesitated because I didn't feel like emptying my bladder was really the problem, but I went along with it. It ended up being an awful, painful procedure that did absolutely no good at all.

"Then one day a friend suggested I go to her urologist. I did, and I couldn't believe the difference. He was so much more up to date on things. He said that stretching the urethra wasn't an effective treatment for overactive bladder—which I had already found out the hard way—and he put me on a medication that I started taking once in the morning and once in the evening. What a difference it has made. Whereas I used to get up two to three times every night, now I just get up once and fall right back to sleep afterward, and I can wait to urinate two or three hours during the day, rather than going every hour. The side effects of this medication are fairly easy to manage. I use a moisturizing mouth spray for dry mouth, and since my medication lessens sweat production, I carry a water spritzer with me and a small portable necklace fan when I go to the gym."

The Yoga Connection
"Exercising has always helped me. Unlike stress incontinence, overactive bladder symptoms aren't usually provoked by exercising, so that's never been a problem for me. I do yoga three or four times a week and I find that it has put me in touch with the mind-body connection. Now when I get an occasional urge, I do my deep breathing and tell myself to relax, and I can usually calm it down and continue on. Also, at one point I worked with a physical therapist who taught me that if I get a sudden urge to urinate, I should do 10 quick Kegel exercises to reset the bladder and calm it. It really helps.

"My advice to other women with overactive bladder is don't be afraid to talk about it. The problem is common and other people might have solutions that will work for you. And find yourself a good urologist. My symptoms have been under control for about 10 years, and my husband and I can laugh about it now—you have to have a good sense of humor when you have an overactive bladder. And I'm so grateful; overactive bladder isn't life-threatening. There are many illnesses that are so much worse. I realize how really lucky I am."

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