Overactive Bladder or Urge Incontinence

People who frequently experience a “drop everything now” urge to urinate – even when they can’t urinate – are likely coping with an overactive bladder (OAB). The good news is this condition is often highly treatable.

What is OAB?

An overactive bladder (OAB) causes the need to urinate frequently and sometimes urgently. It is one of the leading causes of urinary incontinence. More than 30 million Americans experience overactive bladder.

What causes OAB?

Causes of OAB include:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Nerve damage
  • Bladder stones
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Side effects of certain drugs or neurologic disorders like Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or multiple sclerosis.

Also, signals sent from the sacral nerves (at the base of the spine) to the bladder may cause the muscle surrounding the bladder to contract, even if the bladder isn’t full.

What are the symptoms of OAB?

Most symptoms of OAB involve an uncontrollable need to urinate:

  • Immediate and frequent need to urinate
  • Going to the bathroom repeatedly at night
  • Accidents resulting from the inability to reach the bathroom in time

How is OAB diagnosed?

A urologist will perform a detailed history and physical exam, so it is helpful if the patient keeps a bladder diary for a few days beforehand to record times of urination, the amount of urine, leakage, and foods and beverages consumed. The physician may also perform one of several tests:

  • Stress test: The patient relaxes and then coughs hard as the physician watches for urine loss.
  • Urodynamics: A technique that measures pressure in the bladder and urine flow.
  • Post-void residual volume: A measure of the amount of urine left in the bladder after urination.
  • Cystoscopy: A thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted into the urethra to view any abnormalities in the urethra or bladder.

How is OAB treated?

A patient can adopt lifestyle changes to help control OAB. Cutting down on caffeinated drinks, alcohol, chocolate, tomatoes, citrus, and spicy foods may help. Also, a high-fiber diet can prevent constipation, which aggravates OAB. Other treatments may include:

Conservative treatments:

  • Bladder training: Without medication, this early course of treatment trains the bladder to act differently. Also called “scheduled voiding”, instead of going to the restroom every time there is an urge, the patient tries to limit urination at set times of the day. The point is to control the urge by waiting – for just a few minutes at first, then gradually increasing to an hour or more between bathroom visits.
  • Pelvic floor exercises: Kegel (pelvic squeezing) exercises help strengthen the muscles used to start and stop the flow of urination. It involves repeatedly tightening, holding, and then relaxing the muscles – up to three sets of 10 a day​. Men also benefit from Kegel exercises.
  • Biofeedback: Patients who have trouble locating their Kegel muscles may benefit from biofeedback. This approach involves one-hour, scheduled visits to The Urology Group Central Indiana’s office. A probe monitors the patient’s squeezing for viewing on a computer screen, effectively teaching the patient to repeat the exercises at home.
  • Medication: Anticholinergics and beta-3 agonists, the most common OAB medications, help suppress involuntary contractions by the detrusor muscle surrounding the bladder. Some women may also benefit from estrogen in the form of a topical cream, vaginal rings, or tablets.

Minimally invasive treatments:

  • Posterior tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS): A periodic stimulation of the posterior tibial nerve (near the ankle) as regular, outpatient therapy.

Surgical treatments:

  • Botox injection: The physician injects Botox directly into the bladder muscle, partially paralyzing it to reduce overactivity, but leaving enough control to empty the bladder voluntarily.
  • Sacral nerve stimulation: A tiny pacemaker-like device for the bladder is implanted through a tiny incision near the tailbone, to calm the nerves that control bladder function.
  • Bladder augmentation: A surgical procedure that enlarges the bladder with a patch made from the patient’s own tissue.