It's Time to Talk About OAB!

Do you often have that sudden "gotta go" feeling that makes you nervous you will leak urine if you don't get to a bathroom right away? If so, you may have Overactive Bladder (OAB).

What is Overactive Bladder (OAB)?

OAB is not a disease. It's the name given to a group of troubling urinary symptoms. The most common is a sudden and unexpected urge to urinate that you can't control. In some people, this "gotta go" feeling may result in urine leakage (incontinence). But in others, it may not. Other OAB symptoms include frequent urination during the day and night. The number of times someone goes to the bathroom may be different from person to person. But many experts agree going to the bathroom more than eight times in 24 hours is "frequent urination."

OAB affects millions of men and women. Some experts estimate as many as 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women in the United States live with OAB symptoms. But the number of people suffering from OAB may be much larger. That's because many people living with the condition don't ask for help. "A lot of people don't talk to their doctors because they're embarrassed about their symptoms or because they don't know there are treatment options," says Kathleen Kobashi, MD, chief of urology at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. "But there are plenty of things we can do to help. If you are having difficulty with OAB symptoms, talk to your health care provider today."

Risks for OAB

The risk for OAB increases as you get older. Women who have gone through menopause and men who have had prostate issues are also at higher risk. Conditions affecting the brain or spinal cord, such as multiple sclerosis or stroke, also raise your risk for OAB. Food and drinks, such as caffeine, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and very spicy foods, can bother your bladder and make symptoms worse. 

How OAB Can Affect Your Life

OAB can get in the way of your work, social life and sleep. Without treatment, symptoms may make it hard to get through the day without having to make many trips to the bathroom. You may feel nervous about going out with friends or doing daily activities because you are afraid you may not be able to find a bathroom when you need one. You may shy away from social events and spending time with your spouse or family. This can result in you feeling lonely and isolated, and may affect your relationships with loved ones. OAB can also deprive you of a good night's sleep, leaving you feeling tired and depressed.

Talking to Your Health Care Provider

When you tell your health care provider you have OAB symptoms, he or she will ask you to describe them. Your provider may refer you to a specialist, such as a urologist. You'll be asked about your medical history and your symptoms, what they are, how long you have been having them and how they are affecting your life. Your provider will also ask about past and current medical problems, and about your diet-including what liquids you drink and how much you drink.

You will be given a physical exam to check for problems that may be causing OAB symptoms. Your provider may ask you to keep a "Bladder Diary," where you write down how often you go to the bathroom and any time you leak urine. You may also have tests, such as a urine test, to look for infection or blood. Your doctor may do an ultrasound to see how much urine is still in your bladder after you go to the bathroom.

Taking Control

There are many treatment options for OAB. Your doctor may use just one treatment, or several at the same time. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medications and other therapies.

Examples of Lifestyle Changes:

  • Limiting food and drinks that irritate your bladder. This includes coffee, tea, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, soda, other fizzy drinks, citrus fruit, food made with tomatoes, chocolate (but not white chocolate) and spicy foods.
  • Emptying your bladder twice. This is helpful for people who have trouble emptying their bladders completely. After you go to the bathroom, wait a few seconds and then try to urinate again.
  • Keeping a bladder diary. Writing down when you make trips to the bathroom for a few days can help you and your doctor understand your symptoms better. A diary may also show you some things like certain foods that make your symptoms worse, for example.
  • Teaching yourself to put off going to the bathroom, even when you feel an urge to go. Start by waiting a few minutes. Then gradually build up to two-to-three hours. Only do this if your doctor tells you to.
  • Following a set, daily bathroom schedule during the day, usually every two-to-four hours.
  • Doing exercises to relax your bladder muscle. Quickly squeeze and release the muscles in your pelvis a number of times when you feel the urge to go.

Examples of Medical Treatment

  • Prescription drugs to relax the bladder muscle. They can help stop your bladder from contracting when it is not full. Some are taken by mouth. Others are delivered through a gel or patch on the skin.
  • Neuromodulation therapy (bladder pacemaker). This treatment delivers electrical pulses to the nerves to change how they work.
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox®) injections. The drug is injected into the bladder muscle to help keep it from contracting too often.

OABThe Truth about OAB

Knowledge is power! Don't let myths about OAB prevent you from getting the help you need. Learn the truth about OAB:

  • OAB is not "just part of being a woman."
  • OAB is not "just having an ‘enlarged' (big) prostate."
  • OAB is not "just a normal part of getting older."
  • OAB is not caused by something you did.
  • Surgery is not the only treatment for OAB.
  • There are treatments for OAB that can help people manage symptoms.
  • There are treatments that many people with OAB find helpful.

Read Becca's Story: Life-Changing Treatment