What to Know About Overactive Bladder, Including Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options


We've all felt the sudden urge to pee before (and remedied it by dancing around, crossing our legs, and finally…getting to a restroom). But while many people have their bladders under control, a large portion of the population isn't quite so fortunate.

The condition at play here—overactive bladder (OAB, for short)—is a super common condition, affecting up to 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men in the US, according to the Urology Care Foundation. But despite its commonality, there are still many misconceptions about OAB, mainly because the condition isn't talked about enough. Here's what you need to know about OAB—like the most common symptoms, causes, and treatments—according to urologists.

RELATED: Bladder Infection Symptoms You Need to Know, According to Urologists

What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder, which is sometimes referred to as polyuria, is a condition that causes the bladder to squeeze out urine at the wrong time, according to MedlinePlus, a resource from the US National Library of Medicine.

Unfortunately, doctors aren’t quite sure what causes the condition. “We don’t have a cause for overactive bladder,” Bilal Chughtai, MD, a urologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, tells Health. What we do know is that it affects both men and women, oftentimes as they age, and that more women than men suffer from OAB. The condition tends to worsen once people hit age 50, which is usually when they seek medical help and often get a diagnosis, Dr. Chughtai explains.

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What are the symptoms of overactive bladder?

If you experience at least two of these symptoms, there’s a chance you’re suffering from overactive bladder, according to MedlinePlus:

  • Urinating at least eight times during the day or at least two times during the night.
  • Feeling a sudden and strong need to urinate immediately.
  • Leaking urine after experiencing a sudden and strong urge to urinate.

Overactive bladder symptoms tend to get worse over time, instead of simply appearing overnight, Dr. Chughtai says. This contributes to a later diagnosis in many people: Some don’t notice their symptoms slowly worsening, and this might cause them to struggle with incontinence—the loss of control of the bladder—before seeking help and receiving the correct diagnosis.

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Another problem occurs when people are repeatedly misdiagnosed with urinary tract infections (UTIs). Doctors who aren’t specialists, like urologists, might mistake overactive bladder symptoms for those of a UTI, and end up diagnosing their patient with a UTI multiple times—while the whole time they’ve been suffering from OAB. For this reason, it’s important to consult a urologist or urogynecologist if you think you’re suffering from OAB and your symptoms persist even after receiving treatment for a presumed urinary tract infection.

Dr. Chughtai explains that both of these factor into why it’s not uncommon for a urologist to see a patient who has struggled with overactive bladder for five to seven years without receiving a proper diagnosis.

The diagnostic process for overactive bladder is fairly simple: A urologist can diagnose the condition after asking you questions about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.

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And while young people experiencing the above symptoms might not consider themselves at-risk for OAB, it’s true that the condition, can affect individuals in their twenties and thirties, Sandip Vasavada, MD, a urologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Health.

How is overactive bladder treated?

The good news is that there are many ways to manage the condition. For starters, many simple lifestyle adjustments can help you better control your OAB symptoms. Caffeine, acidic foods, and spicy foods are known to exacerbate OAB symptoms, so cutting back on all of those can potentially lessen your symptoms, Dr. Chughtai explains.

Beyond that, some oral prescription drugs designed to relax the bladder are used to manage OAB, and doctors might also recommend pelvic floor exercises to patients who suffer from OAB.

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In addition to these treatments, a couple of more intrusive procedures are used to help patients with OAB. Some patients have botox injected into their bladder, which essentially paralyzes the bladder, and doctors also do a procedure that sends an electrical signal to the bladder, via the insertion of a small needle in the ankle, to calm it down.

While no known cures exist for OAB, a variety of treatment options can work together or singularly to lessen symptoms, and the treatment plan could be as simple as cutting back on the amount of coffee you drink every morning.

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