September 01, 2020

Overactive bladder

Treatment options for a problem that affects men and women

You open the door to your house and hang up your keys. Out of nowhere, you are hit with a strong urge to urinate. You instantly feel anxious and hope you can get to the bathroom without any leaks. Luckily, you make it. But this isn't the first time this has happened, and you haven't always been so lucky.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a common problem in older adults — both men and women — and it can negatively impact your quality of life. It includes sudden, unexpected urges to urinate that can result in an unintentional loss of urine (urge incontinence). These urges can come frequently and can mean that you make many trips to the bathroom throughout the day and night.

Overactive bladder

Urine is made in the kidneys and then drains into your bladder. As your bladder fills, nerve signals trigger the need to urinate.

For urination, the muscles of your pelvic floor and urethra — the tube where urine exits the bladder — need to relax. When the urethra's sphincter is relaxed, it opens so urine can be released. The muscles of the bladder contract, pushing the urine out.

If you have OAB, something goes wrong in this process. How this happens is not precisely understood and may vary, but one explanation is that there is a breakdown in the communication between the brain and the nerves that control your bladder. These faulty nerve signals can allow involuntary bladder muscle contractions, even if there's not much urine in your bladder. This creates a...