Overactive bladder (OAB) is a chronic condition of the
bladder that causes sudden urges to urinate. The urge comes from bladder muscle
contractions. The urge can happen suddenly and at any time, regardless of the amount
of urine in the bladder. It may cause urine leakage (incontinence).
The urinary system consists of:
- two kidneys
- two ureters (tubes that connect the kidneys to
- the bladder
- the urethra (the tube that carries the urine
from the bladder and out of the body)
Many muscles are also involved in urination. This creates
many areas for a potential problem. Bladder and kidney health, obstructions,
and muscle problems can all lead to OAB.
OAB affects millions of people worldwide. According to the National Association for Continence
(NAFC), one in five adults over the age of 40 are affected by OAB or recurrent symptoms
of urgency and frequency. Eighty-five percent of these people
are women. In addition, one in four women experience urine leakage at one time
Although OAB is relatively common, many people don’t talk
about it. The embarrassing nature of OAB means it’s something that people would
rather keep quiet.
In many cases, the cause of OAB is unknown. The
good news is that several treatment options are available even when the cause
can’t be determined.
As stated above, OAB is characterized by the sudden and
intense urge to urinate regardless of the amount of urine in the bladder. These
urges may or may not cause urine to leak out of the bladder. When leakage occurs,
it is called urinary incontinence
(UI) and is defined as the involuntary loss of urine.
is when sudden urges associated with OAB cause urine leakage. Sometimes urine leakage can occur as
a result of sudden movement like laughing or sneezing. This puts pressure on
the bladder. This type of leakage is called stress incontinence and occurs independently of OAB.
Urge and stress incontinence and OAB are sometimes discussed
together. This is true especially when it comes to certain treatment
options involving the strengthening of the pelvic floor muscle (detrusor).
This is the part of the body responsible for suppressing urine leakage.
However, while OAB and stress incontinence are two different conditions. urge
incontinence is usually considered a symptom of OAB.
OAB is typically a treatable condition. People affected by
it are often able to make lifestyle changes that remedy the symptoms. Treating
the conditions that cause OAB can resolve the problem. Sometimes medication is
necessary. Rarely, surgery is required.