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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Overactive Bladder
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With overactive bladder, you have many strong, sudden urges to urinate during the day and night. You can get these urges even when you have only a little bit of urine in your bladder. You may not be able to hold your urine until you get to the bathroom. This can lead to urine leakage, called incontinence.
Overactive bladder is very common in older adults. Both men and women can have it, but it's more common in women.
Overactive bladder is a kind of urge incontinence. But not everyone with overactive bladder leaks urine.
Even without incontinence, overactive bladder can make it hard to do the things you enjoy. The need to drop everything and race to the bathroom can disrupt your life. And if you leak, even if it's only a little bit, it can be embarrassing.
Overactive bladder can cause other problems too. Hurrying to the bathroom can lead to falls and broken bones. Overactive bladder can also cause sleeping problems, depression, and urinary tract infections.
Many people are too shy to talk about their bladder problems. But overactive bladder can get better with treatment. Don't be afraid to talk with your doctor about how to control your overactive bladder.
Overactive bladder is caused by an overactive muscle in the bladder that pushes urine out. There are many things that can make this muscle overactive. It can be caused by a bladder infection, stress, or another medical problem. Some brain problems, such as Parkinson's disease or a stroke, can also lead to overactive bladder. But in many cases, doctors don't know what causes it.
Some medicines can cause overactive bladder. Talk with your doctor about the medicines you're taking to find out if they could affect your bladder. But don't stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor first.
The main symptoms of overactive bladder are:
You may have some or all of these symptoms.
Your doctor will do a physical exam. He or she will ask what kinds of fluids you drink and how much. Your doctor will also want to know how often you urinate, how much, and if you leak. It may help to write down these things in a bladder diary for 3 or 4 days before you see your doctor.
Your doctor probably will also do a few tests, such as:
You may have more tests if your doctor thinks your symptoms could be caused by other problems, such as diabetes or prostate disease.
Things to try at home
The first step in treatment will be to try some things at home, such as urinating at scheduled times. This is called bladder retraining.
You can also do special exercises called Kegels to make your pelvic muscles stronger. These muscles control the flow of urine. Doing these exercises can improve some bladder problems. It may help to work with a physical therapist who has special training in pelvic muscle exercises.
There are other changes you can make that can help:
If your symptoms really bother you or affect your quality of life, your doctor may suggest that you try medicine along with bladder training and exercises. These medicines include:
For severe overactive bladder or severe urge incontinence that hasn't been controlled by exercises or medicine, treatments include:
Acupuncture may help with overactive bladder. It has been shown to work as well as medicine for some women.footnote 1
Hartmann KE, et al. (2009). Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Women. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 187 (AHRQ Publication No. 09-E017). Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/bladdertp.htm.
Other Works Consulted
Gormley EA, et al. (2014). Diagnosis and Treatment of Overactive Bladder (Non-Neurogenic) in Adults: AUA/SUFU Guideline. Linthicum, MD: American Urological Association. http://www.auanet.org/common/pdf/education/clinical-guidance/Overactive-Bladder.pdf. Accessed January 22, 2015.
Naumann M, et al. (2008). Assessment: Botulinum neurotoxin in the treatment of autonomic disorders and pain (an evidence-based review): Report of the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 70(19): 1707–1714.
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineAvery L. Seifert, MD, FACS - Urology
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Avery L. Seifert, MD, FACS - Urology
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