What is OAB?

Overactive Bladder, commonly referred to as OAB, is a condition in which the bladder contracts and creates a sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate. OAB is often coupled with incontinence, a loss of bladder control which can lead to the leakage of urine. OAB and incontinence, however, are not always simultaneous, but OAB can lead to urge incontinence. The main sign of an overactive bladder sudden, strong needs to urinate frequently.

OAB can have seemingly similar symptoms to Stress Urinary Incontinence, or SUI, but they are completely different conditions. SUI is characterized by urine leakage when you sneeze, laugh, or are physically active.

Who has OAB?

Overactive bladder is reportedly more common in women than men. In the United States, at least 30 percent of men experience OAB symptoms, while at least 40 percent of women experience OAB symptoms. The accuracy of these numbers, however, is hard to determine, as many people living OAB do not seek help for their symptoms. They may be too embarrassed to bring up their symptoms to their health care providers, or think that there are not treatments that will help alleviate their symptoms. This is not true – there are many treatments that can help, and asking a health care provider for help is the first step to symptom relief.

What causes OAB?

In someone who does not have OAB, kidneys produce urine which then travels to the bladder. The brain then tells the body that it is time to urinate, but it doesn’t seem urgent. When in the restroom, the pelvic floor muscles relax and urine leaves the body. In someone with OAB, the bladder muscles contract involuntarily, even when the bladder is not full. The produces the sensation of needing to urinate immediately.

OAB might result from the nerve signals between the bladder and brain not working properly. The signals could be telling the brain that the bladder is full, regardless of how full it truly is. OAB can also be caused by the overactivity of the bladder muscles. If these muscles contract before the bladder is full, it will cause a sudden, strong urge to urinate, also known as urgency.

What are the symptoms of OAB?

The primary symptom of an overactive ballber is an urgent and uncontrollable urge to urinate. Again, this is known as urgency. You may or may not leak, but this “need to go now” feeling may make you fearful of leaking.

Urgency will always be present in someone living with OAB. Other symptoms may also appear, such as:

  • Urge incontinence, which is the leakage of urine accompanying urgency. Keep in mind this is different than symptoms of SUI, which is leakage accompanying laughing, sneezing, or physical activity.
  • Frequent urination. The exact number of what is ‘frequent’ varies from person to person, but more than eight times in 24 hours may be a reason to talk to your health care professional about OAB.
  • Nocturia, or waking from sleep more than once per night to urinate.

The risk of developing the symptoms of OAB do increase with age, but keep in mind these symptoms are not typical of getting older. If you are experiencing urgency at any age, you should talk to your health care provider.