What is Overactive Bladder?

February 22,2021 |
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Overactive bladder, commonly referred to as OAB, is not a disease. It’s a term that’s used to describe a range of urinary symptoms in men, women, and children. OAB is most often characterized by incontinence along with the sudden and urgent need to pass urine. It affects over 30 million men and women in America, but women experience it disproportionately more. While OAB is common, it’s not always easy to manage. Oftentimes, the symptoms are unpredictable and can lead to a severe decrease in your quality of life. Luckily, there is hope. There are plenty of treatment options for OAB that can help you manage and lead a healthy, normal life. To help you fully understand this range of urinary symptoms, here’s everything you need to know when asking yourself: what is overactive bladder?

What Causes OAB?

When your bladder is functioning normally, nerve signals are sent to your brain, which in turn trigger the need to urinate. You then find a bathroom, relax your pelvic floor and urethral muscles, and the bladder contracts to expel urine. These contractions and movements are voluntary—you control them. In OAB, the muscles begin to work more involuntarily or without your control. This is what leads to increased urgency and incontinence.

Since OAB is merely symptomatic, it’s an indication of an underlying condition or environmental factors. Some conditions that can cause OAB include:

  • Diabetes
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Nerve Damage
  • Infection
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Bladder Abnormalities
  • Bladder Obstructions
  • Medication
  • Declining Cognitive Function
  • Excess Consumption of Irritants
  • Obesity
  • Trouble Walking
  • Incomplete Bladder Emptying
  • Weakened Pelvic Floor Muscles

The direct cause of OAB is not clear, however the risk of developing accompanying symptoms increases with age. If you have any of the conditions or disorders listed above, it does not necessarily guarantee that you’ll develop OAB, but your risk does increase. If you’ve had a stroke or are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, OAB is more likely to occur. If you have any questions about your risk factors or think that you may have an underlying condition that is causing OAB, talk to your doctor for the proper diagnosis.

Can You Prevent OAB?

If you think you’re at risk for developing OAB, there are some things you can do. Leading a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent overactive bladder along with a number of health aliments. If you have any chronic conditions, make sure that you’re managing them properly and staying up to date with doctor’s appointments, medication, and any other treatments. Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting excess pressure on your bladder and get regular exercise. If you smoke, quit and limit your consumption of bladder irritants as a preventative measure. Finally, work on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles by adding kegels to your daily routine.

Differences of OAB in Men and Woman

Due to the underlying anatomical characteristics in men and women, overactive bladder is expressed differently. OAB is much more prevalent in women, often due to the impact of pregnancy and delivery on the pelvic floor muscles. Hormonal changes during menopause may also play a role on the increased rate of occurrence. The disparity in diagnosis may also be due to underreporting from men—they are not as likely to discuss symptoms with their doctor. Regardless, symptoms may present differently between men and women.

It’s not uncommon for children to experience some degree of OAB throughout development. If you notice that your child is frequently wetting the bed or having accidents regardless of age and consumption of liquids, talk to your doctor about getting a diagnosis. Bed wetting can also be indicative of other issues.

Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency depending on the person affected. The most common symptoms of OAB include increased urgency, frequency, incontinence, and the development of nocturia.

  • Urgency – you’ll feel like you need to urinate immediately or fear that you won’t be able to hold it until you find a bathroom. You’re unable to postpone urination.
  • Frequency – you’ll begin to urinate often throughout the day, regardless of your liquid intake. It becomes very obvious that you’re using the bathroom more frequently.
  • Incontinence – you may find that you’re experiencing urine leakage when the urge to urinate approaches. Incontinence can occur in a number of ways and range from mild to severe.
  • Nocturia – you’ll need to get up more than once during the night to urinate, thus disrupting your sleep cycle. Nocturia can be as mild as using the bathroom twice during sleep or as severe as getting up every hour.

You may experience bladder spasms with OAB. If you begin to notice any of the above, contact your doctor. It’s important to understand the underlying cause of your symptoms to maximize the efficiency of treatment.

Diagnosing Overactive Bladder

To make sure that you get a proper diagnosis, your doctor will perform a series of tests beginning with a physical exam.

  • Physical Exam – your doctor will feel the area around your abdomen to look for any signs of inflammation or tenderness near your bladder and kidneys. If you’re a male, your doctor will perform a prostate exam.
  • Urinalysis – a urinalysis is done to collect your urine and look for any signs of abnormalities or problems. This can help to determine the underlying cause of OAB and check for infection.
  • Bladder Scan – using an ultrasound, your doctor will scan your bladder after urination to determine how much, if any, urine is left.
  • Urodynamic Testing – urodynamic testing involves a number of different tests that help to assess how well your bladder is functioning and its ability to empty.
  • Cystoscopy – a cystoscopy is a small camera that’s inserted into your bladder to check for physical abnormalities like stones or tumors.

While OAB is not dangerous in and of itself, it can lead to a serious decline in mental health. OAB commonly causes emotional distress, depression, anxiety, sleeping issues, problems with sexuality, embarrassment, and a general decline in participating in activities you enjoy. To make sure that you’re staying healthy—physically and mentally—it’s important to seek treatment.

Treatment Options for OAB

Due to the prevalence of many urinary conditions, there are a number of different treatment options available to help alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life. Treatment options for OAB range from lifestyle changes to surgery and everything in between, so take the time to discuss your options with your doctor to fully understand any risks or potential complications.

Lifestyle Changes

One of the first treatment options that your doctor will recommend includes a number of lifestyle treatments. They’re the least intrusive and tend to have effective results for many people living with OAB. Since certain foods and drinks can exasperate symptoms, you will be asked to limit their intake. Avoid carbonated beverages, caffeine, and irritating foods such as citrus, highly processed foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, spicy food, tomato products, and foods with high amounts of preservatives. You should also talk to your doctor about potential gluten sensitivities, which can increase the severity of OAB.

To reduce the likelihood that OAB interferes with your life, monitor your liquid intake and avoid drinking anything in excess. To avoid sleep disruptions, stop drinking a few hours before bed.

Additionally, there are a number of exercises that you can perform to help strengthen the bladder and supporting muscles. Incorporate pelvic floor exercises, begin a bladder training regimen, and maintain a healthy weight.

Pelvic Floor Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy involves strengthening your pelvic floor muscles through regular exercise. By performing kegels and other targeted movements, you’ll slowly build up the natural strength of your pelvic floor, thus improving function of bladder control. Pelvic floor therapy is beneficial for many urinary problems.


The next treatment option your doctor will recommend is medication. There are many different types of medications actively being used to treat OAB. They work by relaxing the bladder muscle to avoid involuntary contractions that may trigger urgency, frequency, and incontinence.

Botox Injections

Botulinum toxin A (Botox) injections can help calm the muscles in your bladder similarly to medication. Some people find the injections to be more effective and preferrable since you do not need to do them daily. Botox injections into the bladder require a trained medical professional and will need to be repeated regularly (roughly every 6 months) to maintain effectiveness.

Nerve Stimulation

In cases where your doctor recommends nerve stimulation, the way that your nerves carry impulses to the bladder is altered. External nerve stimulation is not widely practiced so many doctors do not recommend using it as a treatment option unless absolutely necessary.


There are a few surgical options that your doctor may recommend for treating OAB. However, surgery is reserved for extremely serious cases. It is done using either augmentation cystoplasty or urinary diversion.

For more information on improving your urologic health, or for support of common urologic conditions, contact Byram Healthcare today.