What is Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB)?

Many older adults develop urinary problems as they age. For example, an overactive bladder—which causes one to feel the need to urinate frequently—is much more common among seniors. Normally, when your bladder becomes about half full, it triggers contractions that make you want to urinate. However, with overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), these contractions occur even when the bladder is less than half full. In essence, the bladder muscle transmits incorrect signals to the brain. This frequent urge to pee can be more than just a nuisance—it can greatly influence quality of life by interfering with work, sex, social life, sleep and general productivity. However, even though seniors often develop it, it does not come as an inevitable symptom of aging. There are many steps you can take to prevent or treat an overactive bladder. Below you will find answers to some of the most common questions about this condition.

Frequently Asked Questions: Overactive Bladder

Q: What are the symptoms of overactive bladder syndrome (OAB)?

A: An overactive bladder causes a frequent urge to urinate, sometimes resulting in involuntary urine leakage called “urge incontinence.” People with an OAB may say that their bladder fills up quickly, but in fact, their bladder muscle malfunctions and tells the brain it is much fuller than it actually is. Due to this hyperactive signaling, you may also wake up multiple times during the night to urinate (nocturia). People with overactive bladders urinate more often than others—usually eight or more times per day. All these extra bathroom visits can consume a lot of time and disrupt normal activities.

Q:  What causes an overactive bladder?

A: Overactive bladder is not a disease in itself, but a syndrome (collection of symptoms) that can be triggered or exacerbated by many different possible factors. Doctors do not fully understand the cause of an overactive bladder, which is why they describe it as a syndrome. However, factors such as cognitive decline, neurological disorders, diabetes, bladder disorders, pelvic floor muscle tone, weight, stress and consumption of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages can all contribute to the development of an overactive bladder.

Q: What are the consequences of an overactive bladder?

A: Frequent urge to urinate can have wide-ranging consequences on quality of life, affecting sleep, sexuality, social life, and work. For instance, waking up multiple times per night to urinate greatly disrupts quality of sleep, contributing to daytime fatigue and trouble concentrating. Anxiety about incontinence can also negatively affect your sex life. Furthermore, you may experience feelings of embarrassment or depression due to your urinary troubles. Finally, frequent bathroom visits during work-time may affect productivity, especially if you must go far to get to the toilet.

Q: How can I avoid getting it?

A: Fortunately, you can take many actions to prevent getting overactive bladder including:

  • Limit consumption of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise frequently
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Perform Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
  • Avoid urinating when you don’t have to—your bladder may get accustomed to holding smaller volumes of fluid
  • Manage chronic illnesses that may trigger an OAB by visiting your doctor for regular checkups and complying with prescribed lifestyle and medication regimens

Q: What should I do if I develop an overactive bladder?

A: If your bladder is overactive, start by talking to your doctor. Make a list of your urinary symptoms. You can even print out this article and highlight the symptoms that you have. Ask your doctor about the possible treatments, including medications and lifestyle changes, and design a suitable plan to control your overactive bladder. Possible lifestyle changes include:

  • Bladder training
  • Scheduling fluid intake (for example, not drinking after a certain time to avoid sleep disturbance)
  • Performing regular pelvic floor exercises
  • Drinking normal amounts of liquid per day (6-8 cups)
  • Wearing absorbent underwear in case of incontinence

If lifestyle changes alone do not control your symptoms, your doctor may recommend medical interventions:

  • Medications that relax your bladder muscle and expand its capacity
  • Surgery to expand the size of your bladder or to bypass it completely

After reading this compact guide—which has clarified overactive bladder syndrome, steps for prevention and possible treatments—you should follow up with your doctor for a more in-depth discussion about preventing or treating overactive bladder.

Disclaimer: The articles on this website are not meant to encourage the self-management of any health or wellness issue. Nor are they meant to encourage any one type of medical treatment. Treatment or advice used by a reader may have varying results, as each individual is different. Any article reader with a health-related question, is encouraged to seek a proper consultation with a doctor or certified health provider. The articles on this website should not be used to disregard any medical or health-related advice, nor should they be the root cause for delay in seeing a doctor or a certified health provider.

The articles on this website should not be used to start the use of dietary supplements or vitamins, natural or herbal products, homeopathic medicine or other mentioned products prior to a proper consultation with a doctor or certified health provider.

Other Articles