How to Manage and Treat Your Overactive Bladder
If you frequently find yourself rushing to find the nearest restroom, you may suffer from overactive bladder. As inconvenient as it may be, you aren’t alone. According to the Urology Care Foundation, more than 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women live with overactive bladder symptoms. The good news is, you can both manage and treat those symptoms.
How do you know if you have an overactive bladder? The first sign is that the urge to urinate is frequent and strong. The average person urinates between four and ten times each day, although this can increase if you drink a lot of fluids or you’re on certain medications. You may occasionally have a wetting accident, requiring you to wear bladder leakage pads just in case. But when your urge to urinate is not only often, but combined with symptoms like incontinence and difficulty in controlling your bladder, you may be suffering from an overactive bladder.
If you suspect you may have an overactive bladder, your first stop should be at your doctor’s office. A medical professional will be able to perform exams to rule out other issues and test your urine for abnormalities. You may be asked to keep a bladder diary and log how often you urinate, as well as what you eat and drink throughout the day.
Before you can begin treating and managing your overactive bladder, it can help to understand what causes it. That awareness will help you better understand how various treatments can help. Knowing all of the options available to you will also help you find the treatment that works best for your lifestyle.
Causes of Overactive Bladder
Your bladder is a small organ located in your pelvis area. As it fills with urine, it expands, storing the liquid until you urinate. The average bladder can hold about 1.5 to 2 cups of urine, but as it fills, the bladder signals the brain when it’s time to begin searching for a restroom. Once you’re ready to go, your brain tells the bladder to release the urine, at which point the muscles inside the bladder relax and let the urine flow.
In an overactive bladder, the muscles in your bladder contract even when your bladder isn’t full. This sends a signal to your brain that you have to urinate. There are multiple reasons these muscle contractions could happen, though, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke. If you’ve suffered one of those conditions and overactive bladder symptoms followed, there could be a connection.
Nerve damage has also been linked to an overactive bladder. If you’ve had an injury or some type of surgery that might have damaged your pelvis, spine, or abdomen, this connection could be important. Diabetes sufferers can develop neuropathy related to their condition that may cause overactive bladder, as can infections in your brain or spinal cord. You may also have a birth defect to your neural tube that can cause overactive bladder. Research is still ongoing into the role the nervous system plays in overactive bladder.
Lifestyle factors may also increase the risk of developing an overactive bladder as you age. If you’ve had natural childbirth or used a catheter during your life, your risks can be higher. Health issues like bladder stones and pelvic organ prolapse can be contributing factors, as well. Lastly, if you have decreased cognitive abilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, your mind may have issues interpreting the signals from your bladder.
However, there are other symptoms that can be mistaken for overactive bladder, especially if you’re relatively young. Overactive bladder usually strikes those over the age of 40, although it can happen at any age. But it can also seem similar in symptoms to urinary tract infections or pressure from an enlarged prostate. It’s also important to consider whether you’re drinking more liquids than usual and, if so, if there’s an underlying cause for that.
Overactive Bladder Treatment Options
Once you’ve identified that you suffer from an overactive bladder, your physician will likely recommend treatment options. Those include day-to-day management of your condition, as well as things you can do to reduce symptoms. Incontinence products are a must-have to protect against wetting accidents. Simply wearing bladder leakage pads on a day-to-day basis can give you the confidence of knowing that you’re protected.
You can do exercises on a regular basis that will help reduce your overactive bladder symptoms. Kegel exercises will help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, as well as your urinary sphincter. Kegels use the same muscles you use if you try to stop urination mid-stream. It can take up to six to eight weeks of these exercises to begin to see an improvement in your symptoms. Once you’ve mastered Kegel exercises, you can also try bladder training, which requires waiting when you feel the need to urinate. You start with 30 minutes, then gradually progress until you’re going three to four hours between bathroom visits. Your doctor may even put you on a bathroom schedule, where you urinate at designated times rather than waiting until you feel the urge to go.
There are several medications on the market that can help with overactive bladder. Anticholinergics block the nerve signals that tell your brain you have to urinate. They also may increase your bladder capacity and reduce your urge to urinate in the first place. If you’re a woman, you can also purchase one medication, Oxytrol, over the counter. Although the primary side effect of anticholinergics is dry mouth, you may also experience constipation, blurred vision, or a sped-up heart rate.
If you’re into holistic treatments, Gosha-jinki-gan (GJG) is a Chinese herbal blend that has been found to inhibit the bladder and improve urinary frequency. Ganoderma lucidum (GL), corn silk, and capsaicin have also been linked to a reduction in symptoms. When combined with Kegel exercises and bladder training, this could be a natural way to improve your overall quality of life.
Working with your doctor, you can not only identify that you have an overactive bladder, but you can also come up with a treatment plan that will alleviate your symptoms. It likely won’t happen overnight, but with patience and hard work, you should find that you can reduce those bathroom trips and find products that alleviate symptoms and protect you against accidents.