How to Live Your Life With an Overactive Bladder

May 12, 2016

How to Live Your Life With an Overactive Bladder

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Overactive bladder, also known at OAB, is a common condition affecting an estimated 33 million Americans. The most common symptom is a sudden urge to urinate that you are unable to control. Some people may leak urine when they feel this urge. This accidental or involuntary leaking of urine is called incontinence. Because of the nature of the symptoms of OAB, many people are too embarrassed to talk to their doctors about it and get help.

The occurrence of OAB is greater in elderly populations with an estimate of about 30 percent of those aged 65 years or older having OAB symptoms. Among the elderly in long-term care facilities, the prevalence of urinary incontinence may be as much as 50 percent and is the basis for admission in many cases. The high prevalence of OAB in elderly populations has led people to believe that urinary incontinence is a normal consequence of aging.

Managing overactive bladder

The symptoms of overactive bladder have a devastating effect on quality of life, especially if OAB is left untreated. People suffering from OAB may avoid social situations due to the fear of having an accident and being embarrassed. For elderly patients, this fear may severely limit their independence, leading to social isolation and depression. However, there are natural treatments and medications that have been shown to be effective in managing OAB symptoms.

Lifestyle changes

There are some lifestyle changes that can be made that will help relieve some of the symptoms of overactive bladder. Of course, before trying any of these, you will want to talk about it with your doctor.

  • Decrease fluid intake—Most people can safely reduce the amount of fluid they drink. By decreasing the amount of fluid you consume, you can reduce the likelihood of incontinence and decrease your urination frequency.
  • Eliminate possible bladder irritants—Reducing your consumption of bladder irritants, especially caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages, can help reduce the chance of incontinence.
  • Maintain a healthy weight—Central obesity places pressure on the bladder and can make incontinence worse.

Bladder training

Bladder training is the most common natural (without medication) OAB treatment. It involves changing how often you go to the bathroom to “teach” your bladder to hold urine. Instead of going to the bathroom when you feel the urge, you only urinate at specific times during the day. This is known as scheduled voiding.

You will learn to control your urge by waiting. When you first start, you may only wait a couple minutes, however as you continue to train your bladder, you will increase the amount of time. If you need to use the bathroom before a scheduled time, you can practice urge suppression techniques such as distraction or relaxation techniques.

You will need to fully commit to bladder training for at least 6 weeks before you will see benefits.

Pelvic floor muscle training

Pelvic floor muscle training is used to strengthen the muscles that control urination. This helps you to be able to control the leakage of urine. These exercises are also known as Kegels and consist of tightening, holding, and then relaxing the muscles that you use to start and stop urination flow. Your doctor will help you determine the right muscles to strengthen and how frequently you should perform the exercises.

When doing pelvic floor training, when you have an urge to use the bathroom, you should stay still and tighten the muscles without relaxing them until the urge is gone.


There are also medications that your doctor can prescribe to you to help with overactive bladder symptoms.

Anticholinergics - They block the nerve signals related to involuntary contractions. They may help increase bladder capacity and decrease the urge to go. These are prescribed to people with glaucoma, urinary retention or gastrointestinal disease.

Antidepressants - Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a tricyclic antidepressant for OAB as they may help relax the muscles of the bladder. The dosage would be lower than a doctor would prescribe for depression.

Botox - Research has shown that botox injections in the bladder can help reduce OAB symptoms and may improve bladder capacity. While dosage and research varies, those that don’t respond to other treatments have found this remedy helpful. The FDA has not approved Botox for incontinence.


For those that cannot find relief of their OAB symptoms by other methods, surgery is a treatment option. A small electrical device can be implanted that will help to regulate bladder control by gently stimulating the sacral nerve.

There is also a procedure, bladder augmentation, which can increase the bladder capacity by adding intestine segments to the bladder. While these surgical procedures are invasive, they may be the only treatment option for some people looking to manage their overactive bladder symptoms.

If you or a loved one is having trouble managing the symptoms of overactive bladder, talk to your doctor or primary care physician to find the relief you need.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is overactive bladder a normal part of the aging process?

Though the occurrence of overactive bladder is prevalent among those 65 and older, OAB is not necessarily a normal part of aging. About 16% of Americans over the age of 40 and about 30% over the age of 65 have OAB. There is a wide range of ailments and related conditions that can cause an overactive bladder or urinary incontinence. If you or someone you know may have an overactive bladder, see a doctor to learn ways on how to manage OAB symptoms.

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What causes overactive bladder?

In many cases, an overactive bladder can result from the natural effects of old age as one's muscles associated with bladder function weaken. Other causes can include the amount and type of foods and drinks one consumes on a regular basis. 

Typically, an adult bladder can hold 600 cc of urine, although for individuals with an OAB that volume is less than 200 cc.

In more severe cases, overactive bladders can be the result of a nervous system problem or related health conditions. The following ailments can cause an OAB:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Back problems
  • Strokes
  • Parkinson’s
  • Dementia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Diabetic Neuropathy

Other causes may include urinary tract infections, bladder stones, urethral strictures, benign prostatic enlargement, or bladder tumors. If you suspect any of these conditions may be causing a frequent and premature urge to urinate, contact your physician immediately.

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