Millions of Americans suffer from overactive bladder (OAB), a group of urinary symptoms that most often causes a frequent urge to urinate.
OAB is common in older men and women, but it is not a normal part of aging.
The frequent, urgent need to go to the bathroom can disrupt people’s lives and/or cause embarrassment. But OAB is common, and it is treatable. Here’s how you can recognize the signs and talk to your doctor.
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Symptoms of Overactive Bladder
The most common symptom of OAB is urgency — the feeling that you need to go to the bathroom now. Other common symptoms include:
- Frequent urination (eight times or more a day).
- Leaking urine when you feel the need to go.
- Waking up during the night to urinate, sometimes more than once.
If you notice the symptoms of overactive bladder, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Preparing to Talk to Your Doctor
Many people who suffer from overactive bladder may be embarrassed to talk to their doctor about it. However, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. As many as 30% of American men and 40% of American women live with symptoms of OAB, according to the Urinary Care Foundation.
OAB is treatable, so if you notice the symptoms, call your doctor.
Before your doctor visit, keep track of your trips to the bathroom by keeping a bladder or bowel diary. In the diary, you can track:
- Trips to the bathroom over a multiple-day period (two days or more).
- Your eating and drinking habits on those days.
- Any times you woke up at night to go to the bathroom.
- Strength of urine flow during bathroom trips.
- If you leaked urine and/or had any accidents.
Keeping a diary can help you be prepared to describe your symptoms to your doctor.
Talking to Your Doctor About Overactive Bladder
When you visit your doctor, make sure you discuss your symptoms as fully as possible.
A visit typically begins with a health history, where your doctor will ask about your urinary symptoms. This includes how often you feel the urge to go to the bathroom, how often you urinate, whether you’ve had any accidents, and whether you’re waking up at night.
The history will also cover potential causes of your symptoms, including your eating and drinking habits and whether you’re taking any medications. Bring a list of your current and past medications.
After the history, your doctor may perform a physical exam and run other tests, including:
- Urine test.
- Bladder scan.
- Cytoscopy (a test where your doctor inserts a tiny camera into your bladder to check for issues).
- Cystometrogram (a test to see how well your bladder stores and releases urine).
Based on the results of your tests, your doctor will recommend potential treatments.
What should I ask my doctor?
It helps to come to your appointment with some questions about your symptoms and potential treatments. Bring paper and something to write with so you can take down the answers.
The Urology Care Foundation has a list of questions you may want to consider asking your doctor during your visit. Potential questions include:
- Can you help me, or do I need to see a specialist?
- What else could be causing my symptoms?
- Can I change my diet to go to the bathroom less?
- What kind of tests do I need? Can you explain them? Are there any risks?
- What do my test results mean?
- What treatments do you recommend? What do they entail?
- What happens if I don’t get treated?
- Are my symptoms curable?
- Do I need to change my lifestyle?
- What’s my next step?
Be assertive. If your doctor isn’t asking you about your symptoms, bring up the subject yourself.
Treatments for Overactive Bladder
Your doctor may recommend several potential treatments for overactive bladder, including:
- Diet and lifestyle changes.
- Pelvic-strengthening exercises.
- Bladder injections (Botox).
- Nerve stimulation therapy.
- Bladder reconstruction surgery.
Surgery carries risks and is typically only used for rare, serious cases of overactive bladder or if other treatments don’t work.
Make sure you ask whatever questions you might have about each treatment. Ask if there are any potential risks or side effects, how long it may take for treatment to help, and what happens if one treatment doesn’t work. If you’re unsure about anything, ask about getting a second opinion.
Treatment can reduce or cure many cases of overactive bladder. If you are experiencing symptoms, make sure you contact your doctor.
The experts at the UPMC Department of Urology treat many different adult and pediatric conditions, including overactive bladder. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact a location close to you.
Urogynecology experts at UPMC Magee-Womens can also provide treatment for overactive bladder and other pelvic floor disorders. Visit our website to find a urogynecology expert close to you.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.