Overactive Bladder in Women

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a condition in which you experience a sudden urge to urinate that is difficult to control, and it can sometimes cause involuntary urine leakage (urge incontinence). There are two types of overactive bladder:

  • Overactive bladder, dry, occurs without urge incontinence and affects about two-thirds of OAB sufferers
  • Overactive bladder, wet, which includes urge incontinence

Your kidneys produce urine that travels to and fills your bladder. Your brain then sends signals telling your body to urinate, which causes your pelvic floor muscles to relax, allowing urine to leave your bladder and exit your body.

But with OAB, there’s often a communication glitch between your brain and your bladder. The brain sends a signal to your bladder that it’s time to squeeze and empty, but your bladder isn’t full. Your bladder starts to contract anyway, causing a strong urge to urinate frequently, even though your bladder isn’t full.

As a result, you can’t control when you urinate or the number of times you urinate throughout the day. And you may leak urine when you feel the urge to urinate.

OAB is quite common, affecting an estimated 1 in 11 American adults, with women nearly twice as likely to be affected by OAB as men. The risk of OAB increases with age, mainly affecting people 65 and older, although women can be affected as early as their mid-forties.

Even though OAB is common, it doesn’t mean you have to live with the symptoms or accept it as a normal part of getting older. Nor should you feel embarrassed or limit your work and social activities. Today, there are various effective treatment options for OAB, ranging from behavioral changes to medications to surgery.

It’s also important to know that there is a subspecialty called urogynecology (also called female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery) that deals specifically with issues such as OAB and urge incontinence. These highly trained doctors are skilled and compassionate in talking to women about these conditions, and they can tailor a treatment plan to your individual situation.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Overactive Bladder

Cooper University Health Care has a comprehensive urogynecology program that is on the forefront of care for overactive bladder in women. Our team of fellowship-trained urogynecologists offers a full range of today’s most advanced diagnostic and treatment services, provided in a caring, sensitive manner:

  • We have the region’s only pelvic floor physical therapy (PT) program, a specialized form of rehabilitation that focuses on strengthening the pelvic floor, which helps support the pelvic organs
  • When surgery is necessary, we have the region’s only robotic surgery program for treating pelvic floor disorders—a minimally invasive approach that results in faster recovery, reduced pain and minimal scarring
  • We are involved in teaching the next generation of urogynecologists through a respected fellowship program—testament to the high level of clinical expertise available here
  • Our urogynecologists are involved in leading-edge research, giving you access to the latest knowledge and advances in treating pelvic organ prolapse in women

Causes and Risk Factors for Overactive Bladder in Women

An overactive bladder causes your bladder muscles to contract involuntarily. This makes you feel as if you need to urinate often, even if your bladder isn’t full. A number of factors can increase a woman’s risk of having OAB, including:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Nerve damage resulting from previous surgery, or abdominal or pelvic trauma
  • Conditions that affect neurological function, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or stroke
  • Menopause
  • Medications that increase urine production, such as diuretics
  • Consuming alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods or other drinks/foods that can irritate the bladder
  • A history of bladder cancer or bladder stones
  • A condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)

Symptoms of Overactive Bladder in Women

OAB causes a group of symptoms, all of which can affect a woman’s quality of life:

  • Frequent urination (8 or more times in 24 hours)
  • An urgent and uncontrollable need to urinate
  • Involuntary urine leakage (urge incontinence) when you feel the need to urinate
  • Feeling like you can’t completely empty your bladder (you may urinate then feel as if you need to go again soon after)
  • Waking up 2 or more times a night to urinate (what’s called nocturia)

Treating Overactive Bladder in Women

Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatment options for relieving the symptoms of OAB. They include:

  • Lifestyle remedies: Your doctor may recommend a variety of behavioral changes, including:
    • Limiting your intake of alcohol and caffeine, which can stimulate the bladder
    • Maintaining a healthy weight since excess weight can put pressure on the bladder
    • Adjusting fluid intake, especially in the evening, to reduce the likelihood of waking at night to urinate
    • Quitting smoking, since it can irritate the bladder
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy: Specially trained physical therapists will teach you targeted muscle exercises and strengthening to help manage urgency, frequency and nighttime symptoms
  • Bladder training: A method to strengthen the bladder muscles by delaying urination
  • Medications: Medications known as antispasmodics or anticholinergics treat OAB by relieving symptoms and reducing episodes of urgency and incontinence
  • Botox injections: Small doses of Botox injected into bladder muscles can temporarily paralyze or weaken them, preventing them from contracting too often, and reducing OAB symptoms. Results typically last 6 to 8 months, so repeated injections may be needed.
  • Sacral nerve stimulation: A sacral nerve stimulator is a pacemaker-type device implanted under the skin of the abdomen and connected to a wire near the sacral nerves (which link the spinal cord and bladder). In certain cases, modulating these nerve impulses can treat OAB symptoms.
  • Surgery: A procedure to increase your bladder’s capacity may be recommended if your symptoms don’t improve with other therapies

Make an Appointment with a Cooper Urogynecologist Experienced in Treating Overactive Bladder

To learn more about the resources available for diagnosing and treating overactive bladder in women at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).