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What is overactive bladder?
Overactive bladder is a condition that causes you to lose control of your bladder without warning. You may have to urinate more often or urgently. Sometimes you may leak a small amount of urine before you make it to the bathroom.
Symptoms of overactive bladder
- Having to urinate 8 or more times per day or having to urinate 2 or more times during the night.
- An urgent and sudden need to urinate with no warning.
- Leaking urine after that urgent, sudden feeling to urinate.
If you have 2 or more of these symptoms, you may have overactive bladder.
What causes overactive bladder?
Nerve and muscle damage near your bladder causes overactive bladder. The damage causes your bladder to contract (squeeze) at an unplanned time. That’s what causes leaking and the sudden, urgent need to urinate. Sometimes, having too much fluid in your bladder or too much caffeine can cause overactive bladder.
Nerve damage is caused by:
- Vaginal childbirth (for women).
- Prostate problems (for men).
- Spinal cord or brain injuries or infections.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Exposure to heavy metals.
- Birth defect.
Bladder cancer can lead to overactive bladder.
How is overactive bladder diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will start by discussing your symptoms and medical history. They might order certain tests to help diagnose the problem. These tests might include:
- Urodynamics: During this test, your healthcare provider will fill your bladder and then see how well it empties.
- Imaging: Your healthcare provider may need to look inside your bladder through the use of an X-ray, CT scan (computerized tomography), or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Can overactive bladder be prevented or avoided?
Overactive bladder cannot be prevented. However, you can reduce the risk of overactive bladder by treating those diseases and conditions that cause it. For example, following your healthcare provider’s treatment advice for diabetes will reduce nerve damage. If you are pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about the potential for bladder damage if you have a vaginal delivery.
Overactive bladder can be treated with medicine, bladder exercises, electrical stimulation, or surgery. Your healthcare provider will tell you which is best for you.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to treat your overactive bladder. Muscle relaxants help control muscle spasms that cause your bladder to squeeze at the wrong time. Common side effects include dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, a fast heartbeat, and a flushed feeling (feeling warm and red). The medicine can be prescribed as a pill or patch.
Bladder exercises strengthen and retrain your bladder to hold the urine until you can get to a bathroom.
- Kegel exercises: These are specific exercises you can do by tightening your urinary muscles (as if you’re trying to hold back your urine) and then letting go. Do this several times throughout the day and it will strengthen your bladder muscles.
- Retraining: Your healthcare provider may recommend keeping a diary of your bladder control. It might include how much fluid you consume, how often you feel like you have to go to the bathroom, and whether you had any leakage. This might help you plan trips to the bathroom and fluid intake.
Living with overactive bladder
Living with overactive bladder will depend on how serious your problem is and how well your treatment works. In either case, living with the condition may require better planning. You may have to plan when you consume liquids and how close you are to a bathroom. You also may consider wearing disposable undergarments that protect your clothing from leaking urine.