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Bladder Overactivity

An overactive bladder (OAB) is a common condition where a person regularly gets a sudden urge or unstoppable need to pass urine. It affects up to 30 percent of all people, preventing them from controlling when and how much they urinate.

What is an overactive bladder?

With a healthy bladder, signals in your brain let you know that your bladder is getting full or is full, but supress the urge to go to the toilet. If you have an overactive bladder, the muscles and nerves in the bladder do not function properly. This causes frequent signals to the brain that contract the muscles to release urine, even though the bladder does not need emptying resulting in extreme frequency or urgency to pass urine and often urinary incontinence.

Although it significantly impacts daily life, many patients find this to be an embarrassing issue, yet it’s important the symptoms of an overactive bladder are diagnosed and addressed; especially given curative treatments exist.

What are the symptoms of an overactive bladder?

If you have an overactive bladder, you might have:

  • Sudden urges to urinate – you cannot hold off going to the toilet, regardless of how recently you emptied your bladder
  • Frequent urination – going to the toilet more often than you usually need
  • Nocturia – waking to go to the toilet multiple times during the night
  • Urinary incontinence – leaking of urine before you can get to the toilet

What are the causes of an overactive bladder?

Very often it’s not known what causes an overactive bladder, but there are certain risk factors that make you more likely to get it, such as:

  • Diet – risk factors include drinking habits; namely diuretics
  • Enlarged prostate – around two-thirds of men have an overactive bladder caused by an enlarged prostate obstructing the bladde
  • Neurological conditions –stroke, parkinson’s multiple sclerosis, spinal injury (slipped disk/trauma) cause nerve damage in the spinal cord and affect the way the muscles sense and contract
  • Age – age increases the risk of getting an overactive bladder, which can also increase your chances of getting an enlarged prostat
  • Prior Intervention – Prior abdominal or pelvic surgery and radiotherapy for cancer can cause overactive bladder.
  • Disorders affecting the Outlet – Urethral strictures, high tone urethral sphincter or gynaecological prolapse of the vagina can impede bladder emptying and cause overactivity.

How is an overactive bladder diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing symptoms you think might be caused by an overactive bladder, see your doctor. To help make a diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms, and perform an examination, checking your abdomen, pelvic and perineal. They may also carry out a brief neurological examination.

They will test your urine to check for an infection. You will be asked to record the frequency and volume of the urine you pass. You may also have a flow test, which involves passing urine into a device to measure the strength of your flow and see whether you can empty your bladder fully.

An invasive urodynamic test may also be requested to measure pressures inside your bladder.

How is an overactive bladder treated?

There are a variety of ways to treat an overactive bladder, and you and your specialist can discuss what they think might work best for you. Some treatment options for an overactive bladder include:

  • General lifestyle changes – these may include adjusting the amount of fluids you drink, or cutting out caffeine
  • Bladder training – this helps you get back control over your overactive bladder by suppressing its contractions
  • Pelvic floor exercises
  • Medications
  • Surgery – Botox, Sacral Nerve Stimulation, Augmentation Cystoplasty and Ileal Conduit

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert functional and reconstructive urology specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Richard Nobrega  ›

Mr Richard Nobrega is Consultant Urological Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in bladder overactivity at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading urologists specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Jeremy Ockrim  ›
Special interests include:
Incontinence (+ 12) more
Mr Richard Nobrega  ›
Special interests include:
Neuro-urology (+ 14) more
Mr Jai Seth  ›
Special interests include:
Neuro-urology (+ 6) more

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