6 Overactive Bladder Facts

If you feel like you always have to go, don't hesitate to speak up

Healthy Aging & Caregiving

Do you go to the bathroom so much that it interferes with your daily life? Or have intense, hard-to-control urges to urinate? If so, you might have overactive bladder.

That means the muscles of the bladder, which you use to push out urine, have started to contract involuntarily. This can cause a variety of problems, from pain to frequent urination to accidents.

Most people with this condition can manage or even cure it with treatment. But to get treatment, you first have to tell someone you have a problem — which, considering the problem's nature, is sometimes easier said than done.

To start a conversation about a subject many people see as taboo, here are some facts everyone should know about this common condition.

1. Frequent urination means frequent for you.

Frequent urination is a common sign of overactive bladder. So, what does "frequent" mean?

Eight times every 24 hours is considered normal. But even if you take 10 or 12 bathroom breaks a day, don't worry: Every person is different. Some feel fine going to the bathroom every couple of hours, but going that often might bother someone else.

See your doctor if you go so much that it bothers you, or if you wake up two or more times each night to go to the bathroom. Other symptoms for which you should seek treatment include urinary incontinence (unintentional urination) and pain while urinating.

2. It's not a normal part of aging.

Overactive bladder has many possible causes, including urinary tract infection, enlarged prostate, diabetes and kidney disease. Often, doctors can't pinpoint the precise cause. But it's never a normal part of getting older.

The condition is more common in older men and women, but that's largely because some of the conditions that can cause it — such as enlarged prostate or weakened pelvic muscles — become more common as people age. So anyone who has symptoms of overactive bladder, no matter his or her age, should see a doctor.

Studies have shown that overactive bladder can decrease your quality of life more than diabetes or heart failure.

3. Hiding it is harder than telling someone.

Talking to a doctor might seem embarrassing, but suffering in silence can be harder.

Studies have shown that overactive bladder can decrease your quality of life more than diabetes or heart failure. So don't hesitate to speak up.

Rush urologists see many patients who have had this problem for years but haven't sought help because they didn't want to talk about it. Once they do come in, they often feel emotional and physical relief, because the team is usually able to find a treatment that works.

4. There are several options for treatment.

The first recommendation typically to regulate fluid intake. For example, if you're going to be sitting in a movie or a long meeting, avoid drinking right beforehand and make sure to use the restroom.

You can also try these "bladder fitness" tips:

  • Sit with your entire backside on the toilet (no hovering or perching on the edge of the seat).
  • Empty your bladder every 3 to 4 hours during the day, and only 1 to 2 times per night.
  • Urinate for a count of "8 Mississippi." If it takes less time to urinate than this, it means you could have waited longer.
  • No "just in case" peeing.
  • Drink enough water to keep your urine a light yellow color.
  • Avoid bladder irritants, constipation and straining.
  • Urinate before and after sexual activity.
  • Strengthen your core muscles.

If lifestyle changes don't solve the problem, there are other possible solutions. If overactive bladder has been caused by problems with the pelvic muscles, physical therapy can sometimes cure it. And many people can get relief from medicines that relax the muscles in the bladder.

For some, though, medications may not do the trick. In these cases, the person may benefit from injections of botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox) into the bladder, which temporarily stop its muscles from contracting.

A longer-lasting option is sacral nerve stimulation, in which a doctor implants a small device under the patient's skin (near the bottom of the spine) to stimulate the nerves that control the bladder.

5. It can signal other serious problems.

Of course, some patients end up needing treatment not for overactive bladder but for its underlying cause.

For instance, people with sleep apnea tend to produce a lot of fluid, which may lead to nighttime accidents. Once they get their sleep apnea under control, the accidents typically stop.

Because so many serious problems (including bladder cancer and neurologic disorders) can cause overactive bladder, seeing a doctor can serve more than one purpose. Not only can a urologist usually solve the urinary symptoms, they can make sure nothing more serious is going on.

6. Avoiding these bladder irritants may help.

Just as no two people are alike, every bladder is unique. It's important to identify how your bladder responds to different dietary items, including these common bladder irritants:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Berries
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Coffee
  • Caffeine
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Corn syrup
  • Corned beef
  • Cranberries
  • Honey
  • Mayonnaise
  • Milk and dairy
  • Onions
  • Pepper
  • Pineapple
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar
  • Tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar
  • Curry
  • Red or blue food dye

Related Stories