What is an overactive bladder?
An overactive bladder is a condition causing a sudden, involuntary contraction of the bladder’s muscle wall, resulting in an unstoppable need to urinate. Often, you’ll feel the urge to go even if you haven’t consumed a lot of liquid.
Sometimes called Small Bladder Syndrome, sufferers of an overactive bladder may need to go to the toilet regularly throughout the day and night, even if there’s only a small amount of urine in the bladder.
Overactive vs small bladder
Many refer to an overactive bladder as a small bladder but, anatomically, it is unlikely you’ll have the latter.
It is, however, possible to have the functionality of a small bladder, meaning you can’t hold much urine. When bladder muscles become overactive, it can result in a frequent need to wee.
For this reason, the terms ‘small bladder’ and ‘overactive bladder’ are often used interchangeably to describe the same condition.
What are the symptoms of an overactive bladder?
Overactive bladder symptoms include:
- A sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate
- Urge incontinence, where urine leaks before you reach the toilet
- Increased trips to the loo
- Waking several times in the night to use the toilet
Causes of an overactive bladder
The precise cause of an overactive bladder is unknown, but there are several known contributors to its symptoms, including:
- Conditions affecting the nervous system, like stroke, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
- Nerve damage or trauma caused by surgery or an incident, such as a car accident.
- Bladder conditions, including bladder stones, bladder cancer or a urinary tract infection.
Other common causes
Other factors known to increase the chances of an overactive bladder include:
- Age: as muscles weaken with age, you may develop an overactive bladder.
- Gender: women tend to be more susceptible, as menopause, pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor. An enlarged prostate or damage from surgery can cause the condition in men.
- Obesity: being overweight can put pressure on your bladder.
- Diabetes: affects the nerves controlling bladder function.
- Spinal injury: can disrupt signals sent to the bladder, causing bladder muscles to involuntarily contract.
Remedies for an overactive bladder
To diagnose the condition, it’s important to speak to your doctor. It may be handy to keep a bladder diary ahead of your appointment to articulate the extent of your symptoms.
Your GP may conduct certain examinations – including a pelvic exam for women or a prostate exam for men –to check for physical signs causing symptoms.
Other tests that may be used include:
- Neurological exam: to check your reflexes and sensory responses.
- Cough stress test this involves drinking fluids, relaxing, then coughing to see if stress or physical exertion causes urinary incontinence.
- Urinalysis: this tests a urine sample for abnormalities, like blood, glucose orbacteria.
- Urodynamic Test: this measures the bladder’s ability to empty properly and whether it is contracting involuntarily.
- Uroflowmetry: this device measures the volume and speed of urination and checks for obstructions, like bladder stones.
Overactive bladder treatments
Once diagnosed, your doctor will advise on the best treatment method for you. This could be a combination of medical or surgical treatment, as well as lifestyle changes.
Some medications reduce and alleviate symptoms of an overactive bladder. You should only resort to medical treatment if advised to do so by your doctor.
Lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms
Lifestyle changes that may reduce the symptoms of an overactive bladder include:
- Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen muscles
- Drinking less before bed (but not throughout the day)
- Limiting diuretics like tea and coffee, which encourage urine production
- Dietary changes to maintain a healthy weight
Managing an overactive bladder
Your doctor is the best person to speak to for advice on managing the symptoms of your overactive bladder. If urge incontinence is a noticeable symptom, wearing an incontinence product can help you to manage in the meantime.