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Overactive Bladder Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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Do you feel the urge to urinate more than 6 to 8 times a day? Do you often feel like you’re having “pee emergencies” that send you running to the bathroom, unsure if you’ll make it in time? You may have an overactive bladder. Use this guide to understand the main causes of an overactive bladder, learn about common symptoms and get treatment options.

What is an overactive bladder?

Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

All of us feel the urge to pee very badly on occasion. This is normal. So how do you know if you have an overactive bladder? Here are some symptoms:

  • You have to urinate more than 8 times a day
  • The urge to urinate often wakes you up in the middle of the night
  • The urge to urinate comes on so strongly and suddenly that you feel you may not make it to the toilet

Keep a diary or journal of your symptoms, including your urges to urinate and how frequently you are urinating. Then discuss these symptoms of overactive bladder with your doctor to discuss the best treatment for you.

Getting the right diagnosis depends on your doctor having the right information. Don’t know why the leaks? Keeping track of how much you’re drinking will help your doctor identify some possible causes of your overactive bladder symptoms.

Risk Factors and Causes of Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder is the result of nerve damage to the bladder and pelvic floor, the system of muscles, nerves and ligaments that support the bladder, uterus and anus. Damage to other parts of the nervous system can also play a part, especially when there’s a hitch in the communication between the bladder and the brain. This means that the brain doesn’t receive proper signals that it’s time to go.

There are a number of urge incontinence risk factors for women with an overactive bladder:

  • Childbirth
    Overactive bladder in women is often caused by nerve damage resulting from a C-section. It can also be caused by nerve damage sustained during natural childbirth.

  • Previous pelvic surgery
    In addition to past C-sections, any other previous pelvic surgery may have damaged the nerves connected to your pelvic floor and bladder.

  • Neurological disease
    Diseases that affect the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, stroke or even diabetes, can create a hitch in the brain’s communication with the bladder muscles and the nerve function in and around the bladder, resulting in an overactive bladder.

  • Medications
    Some medications can also play a role in the sensitivity of your bladder and the surrounding nerves.

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
    The irritation and inflammation caused by urinary tract infections will result in an aggravated and overactive bladder. However, this is temporary. As soon as the infection clears up, your bladder should function normally.

Overactive Bladder Treatments and Remedies

Sure, having an overactive bladder is not exactly fun. But it doesn’t have to get in the way of having some! While it can feel overwhelming, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make in order to alleviate or manage the symptoms of an overactive bladder. Most of them are straightforward and easy to implement, while delivering a big payoff. Try out some of the overactive bladder treatment and remedy recommendations below to see what works best for you.

  • Bladder training:
    Sure, nerve and muscle damage in your bladder can be hard to combat. But this doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved! Just like any other muscle in your body, your bladder can get stronger. All it takes is a little training. Train your bladder to both lengthen the amount of time between bathroom trips and increase the amount urine it can hold so that you have more bladder control. Here’s how to do it.
    Start by holding your urine for five minutes every time you need to urinate. When that starts to feel easy, try holding it for ten minutes, and gradually work your way up, strengthening your pelvic floor muscles and bladder over time. You may find your urges go down after just a few weeks.

  • Stay on schedule:
    Another way to train your bladder is to create a bathroom schedule for yourself. Use the bathroom on a fixed schedule—say, every hour at first. Be sure to go whether or not you need to urinate.
    Once you feel comfortable with your schedule, try increasing the amount of time between each scheduled bathroom visit. Your bladder muscles will slowly get stronger and grow accustomed to holding more urine in it without spasming.

  • Double up:
    This technique is called the double void. It helps you know that you have voided all the urine from your bladder. Keeping your bladder empty can reduce the risk of a bladder spasm. After all, if there isn’t much in your bladder, you won’t have a big leak if your bladder spasms. This ensures you won’t have a bathroom emergency just moments after leaving the bathroom. Here’s how to do it. After you’ve finished urinating, remain on the toilet for 30 seconds, and urinate again.

  • Stay hydrated:
    If you feel the urge to go so intensely, it may be tempting to limit your water intake. This is a big no-no. Not drinking enough water will make your urine more concentrated and acidic. Increased acidity in your urine will aggravate your bladder, induce more spasming and make your overactive bladder symptoms worse. So, don’t be afraid to drink up! Carry around a water bottle with you wherever you go and take small sips of water to stay hydrate throughout the day.

Eat and drink with your bladder in mind:

Adopting a bladder-friendly diet will go a long way in easing the symptoms of an overactive bladder. This means avoiding foods that make your urine acidic because acid will further irritate your bladder. Do your best to saying no to caffeine, alcohol, citrus, carbonated beverages and spicy foods.

If you wake up a lot needing to go to the restroom, then make sure you are getting plenty of fluids during the day and limit drinking fluids closer towards before bedtime. This may help reduce the need to urinate frequently at night.

  • Weight loss:
    Try your best to get moving and shed a few pounds. In overweight women, losing weight has been shown to decrease the frequency of urine leakage. That's because the stress on your pelvic floor muscles is alleviated as your body gets lighter. Plus, you'll feel better in other ways—and more confident too!

  • Kegel exercises:
    You may also want to add kegels to your exercise routine. Kegels are a form of muscle training that tone your pelvic floor muscles, which can improve bladder control, reduce the need to urinate as much and help reduce bladder leaks throughout the day. Learn how to do kegel exercises and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

  • Wear incontinence protection:
    Wearing incontinence liners, pads or underwear can give you peace of mind for those moments when you won’t be able to make it to the bathroom in time. ALWAYS has taken their trusted absorbency technology and applied it to urinary products, for bladder protection that is comfortable, flexible and will keep you dry.
    The Always Discreet line has a range of products, including liners, pads and underwear, each tailored to meet your unique absorbency needs. Always Discreet products have an absorbent core that neutralizes odors and turns liquid into gel for superior bladder protection that keeps liquid away from your skin and keeps you comfortable. They’re so thin, no one will know you’re wearing one.

  • Stop smoking:
    Cigarette smoke can aggravate your bladder muscles. Smoker’s cough can also trigger little leaks of urine. Living a healthy lifestyle can greatly improve symptoms of an overactive bladder!

  • Ease chronic coughing:
    Do what you can to cut down on coughing, even if that means cough drops, humidifiers or hot tea on a regular basis. Coughing adds stress to your pelvic floor, weakening your muscles and causing more bladder leaks.

  • Talk to your women's health doctor:
    You may want to consult your doctor about your medical options. Keeping a journal of your symptoms, diet, lifestyle habits and experience with bladder control may help the doctor better understand the best treatment plan.
    There are many options for treating an overactive bladder—and they may even suggest a combination of urinary incontinence treatments. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to weigh each option and choose which is best for you and your lifestyle.

  • Alternative medication:
    There are alternative treatment options, like acupuncture, that you may want to discuss with your doctor or healthcare specialist. Using very fine needles inserted into pinpointed, strategic places in your body, acupuncturists can target specific nerve pathways related to urination. This may ease some of the symptoms of an overactive bladder.

Talking to Your Partner About Your Overactive Bladder

Wondering how to talk to your partner about your overactive bladder? Read our tips for starting the incontinence conversation with poise and confidence.

Approach the subject head-on, rather than waiting for your partner to ask you about it. If you’ve been behaving in a way that’s out of character, the truth could come as a relief to your partner, who may have been struggling to understand what’s going on.

Here are some more suggestions for how to talk to your loved ones about overactive bladders and how it impacts you and your lifestyle.

How do you start the conversation?
Your partner may have noticed or commented on your frequent trips to the bathroom, or your reluctance to join in on certain activities, so this is a great place to start. For example, you could introduce the conversation by saying, “I’ve been needing to go to the bathroom much more than I used to—that’s why I have trouble enjoying my time in places like movie theaters or long car rides. It’s difficult to get to the bathroom in places like that.” This will help you explain your change in behavior, while letting your partner know how a sensitive bladder is affecting you.

Go Slow so They Can Take Time to Understand it
Although your partner will most likely be supportive, it’s important to remember that they may have no idea what you’re going through or why. Tell them about your OAB symptoms and describe how they’re affecting your life and relationship.

Let Them Know that Bladder Sensitivity is a Common Condition
Help your partner understand how, why and who experiences a sensitive bladder. One in three adult women! Reassure them that you’re taking care of bladder leaks with products that are made specifically for it—like Always Discreet liners, pads and underwear. Mention that you are trying ways to improve your bladder control as well, like doing kegel exercises.

Keep talking
Encourage your partner to ask questions so you can work together to deal with your overactive bladder. Then enjoy a big sigh of relief. Isn’t it nice to think you’ll have someone to talk to who understands and cares?