Recognizing the Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

Recognizing the Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

The Telltale Signs of This Common Bladder Condition

It’s not unusual to have a sudden urge to “go” now and then. A moment of surprise, fear, or extreme excitement can bring on an adrenaline rush, making your bladder jump to attention. Your bladder may “overreact” in these cases, but that doesn’t necessarily make it overactive.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is at play when the bladder muscle reacts without a severe trigger. That quick and pronounced bladder contraction can happen at any time, and whether or not your bladder is full, there’s usually little time to find a bathroom.

However, OAB is not the only bladder problem that can lead to embarrassing incontinence. In other cases, it’s a symptom of a deeper disorder.

If your bladder seems to have a mind of its own, take a close look at your symptoms to determine if OAB or another condition might be to blame.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

OAB can come on suddenly, or build up gradually — a lot depends on if there’s an underlying disorder to blame. In either case, OAB is much more common among older adults: most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 55 and 64.

In terms of symptoms, OAB is a targeted condition, not a systemic one. This means OAB discomforts are all focused on and around the bladder.

For many people, changes to their usual bathroom routine are impossible to ignore, and include:

An Extreme Urge to Go

The first and foremost OAB symptom is a sudden urge to urinate. Typically, you’ll get this urge several times a day, under different circumstances.

For instance, you make a mad dash to the bathroom after drinking a certain beverage, but your bladder could be totally empty the next time the urge to urinate hits. Little leaks are an unfortunate part of life.

Frequent Urination

Although everyone is a bit different, experts maintain the average person should not have to urinate more than eight times in a 24-hour period.

Those with OAB often go more than the prescribed eight times, and although the bladder feels full to the brim, sometimes only a few drops are released.

Nighttime Urination

Waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom isn’t uncommon, and can usually be attributed to drinking too much liquid before bed. However, waking up twice or more during the night to urinate is a condition known as nocturia, and when it happens most nights, it’s something to be concerned about.

Anxiety or Concern in Public Spaces

When you’re finding yourself looking for restrooms at every turn, or you opt out of events and activities just to be on the safe side, your bladder trouble has become a serious problem. Before you know it, you become more anxious and nervous in public, and your social life could start to suffer.

Losing control of your bladder is not only uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing, and will almost certainly chip away at your self-confidence. If you’re dealing with uncomfortable sensations and distressing leaks, it’s important to get to the bottom of the problem so you can treat the condition properly.

Diagnosing OAB

Doctors diagnose OAB with a medical history, physical exam, and often some blood and urine tests. Measuring your urine flow rate is simple and non-intrusive way to determine how well your bladder functions: all you do is urinate into a device that tracks the volume and speed, and your doctor interprets the results.

In some cases, a specialist may want to measure the amount urine left in your bladder after urination, or test your bladder pressure to get a clearer picture of how your bladder is malfunctioning. These tests might require a catheter to be inserted for an accurate measurement.

Ruling out Other Conditions

The better you can describe your bladder discomforts, the quicker your doctor can narrow down possible causes. Several conditions can masquerade as OAB, and these extra symptoms should raise suspicions:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Pelvic pain
  • Blood in your urine

If there’s pain and fever, a urinary tract infection (UTI) or bladder infection could be to blame. In most cases, these sorts of infections are relatively easy to treat with a course of antibiotics.

If there’s no sign of infection, but there’s more going on than urge incontinence, you may need to undergo a neurological exam to uncover any sensory problems or abnormal reflexes.

An enlarged prostate is responsible for a significant number of OAB cases in men, and for women, pelvic organ prolapse can put undue pressure on the bladder and lead to incontinence. In fewer cases, a neurologic disease affecting the spinal cord can interfere with bladder control.

There are lots of good reasons to have your bladder issues checked out right away, and though it can be difficult to bring up an embarrassing subject at the doctor’s office, it’s well worth the effort.

Even if there’s no serious underlying health concern (and there often isn’t), getting treatment started now will help relieve the social anxiety and inconvenience that’s probably impacting your quality of life.


Mayo Clinic (Overactive Bladder)

WebMD (Overactive Bladder Assessment)

Healthline (Overactive Bladder Diagnosis)

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