It seems like as we age, the number of health issues that we may face grows greater, more complicated, and harder to distinguish from one another. Pain at the hip can mean arthritis or a pinched nerve. Headaches can be a sign of stress or a tumor. Fatigue could be a sign of depression or diabetes. We have to look at our symptoms with the help of healthcare professionals to discern what exactly is causing that symptom or symptoms. This also applies to light bladder leaks and urinary health. Even though the end result is an involuntary leak, there may be different reasons this leak occurred. One of the most common incontinence problems that people, especially women, face is called Overactive Bladder (OAB).
What is OAB?
According to the Urology Care Foundation, OAB is “the name for a group of urinary symptoms. It is not a disease. The most common symptom is a sudden, uncontrolled need or urge to urinate. Some people will leak urine when they feel this urge. Another symptom is the need to pass urine many times during the day and night. OAB is basically the feeling that you’ve ‘gotta’ go’ to the bathroom urgently and too much.” In the same article, the UC Foundation also suggests that as many as 30% of men and up to 40% of women have OAB symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling a sudden urge to urinate that’s difficult to control.
- Experiencing urge incontinence — the involuntary loss of urine immediately following an urgent need to urinate.
- Urinate frequently, usually eight or more times in 24 hours.
- Awaken two or more times in the night to urinate (nocturia).
These symptoms can be fairly disruptive in a woman’s life, potentially impacting everything from self-esteem, relationships, sex life, and sleep schedule. Going even further, these symptoms may lead to larger mental or physical health issues such as depression and anxiety to skin infections. Contact your doctor if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and they are seriously impacting your quality of life (even if it’s not that seriously having an impact, inconvenience is reason enough to talk to your doctor!).
So what causes OAB? There are two big reasons that someone might develop this problem, one being neurological and one being physical. Neurologically, it’s basically a miscommunication between your brain and your urinary tract, specifically your bladder. With a normally functioning bladder, the brain sends a signal to you to let you know that your bladder is either full or almost full so you’re aware and can prepare to find and use a restroom. With OAB, your brain may signal you to empty your bladder, regardless of if the bladder is full or if you have found a place to relieve yourself. Physically, your bladder may truly be “overactive” in the sense that the muscles themselves are too active and contract to pass urine even if it’s not full. This causes a strong, sudden need to urinate. In both cases, light bladder leaks may occur. There are risk factors for developing OAB, these include:
- Neurologic disorders or damage to the signals between your brain and bladder
- Post-menopausal women
- High BMI
- Pelvic muscle weakness or spasms
- Previous surgeries (POP surgery, urinary incontinence procedures)
- Developing a Urinary Tract Infection
There can be other factors in developing OAB, so it is important you talk to your doctor to decide on the best solutions for your body and your life.
So what can women do if they develop OAB and it’s embarrassing symptoms? Luckily modern medicine and advances in women’s health have created solutions for those with an overactive bladder.
Lifestyle Changes – You and your doctor may decide to make some lifestyle changes to see if they have any impact on urinary health. These may include things such as bladder training, keeping on restroom schedule, or losing weight.
Medications – Prescription medications can be used to relax the bladder and reduce the number of leaks that occur during the day.
Injections – Some patients with severe cases of OAB may get Botox injections to paralyze the bladder muscles. Repeat injections are needed, with results usually lasting around 5 months.
Nerve Stimulation – A thin wire is placed close to the sacral nerves — which carry signals to your bladder — where they pass near your tailbone to regulate the stimulation of the nerves surrounding the bladder. This is a surgical procedure that usually has a trial period with a temporary wire and then is replaced with a permanent version after the trial has concluded successfully.
Surgery – According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two kinds of surgeries that are reserved for the most severe cases of OAB that have not responded to other treatments. The first being to increase bladder capacity, where surgery is performed to use pieces of your bowel to replace a portion of your bladder. Or complete bladder removal. This involves removing the bladder and surgically constructing a replacement bladder or an opening in the body to attach a bag on the skin to collect urine.
How to Tell if You Have SUI, Not OAB
All urinary incontinence is not the same. If you experience leaks, but not necessarily the urge to go, but more of an accidental leak when you laugh, sneeze, hike, run, or cough you may have what is called Stress Urinary Incontinence, or SUI. Many of the risk factors are the same as OAB – weight, age, and pelvic floor health can all be a factor in developing OAB and SUI. The largest difference between the two is that OAB may be a neurological miscommunication or physical contraction that causes us to feel the urge to go, while SUI is more tied to the weakening or damage of the pelvic floor, surrounding muscles, and nerves. As we mentioned before, talking with your doctor can not only help you discern what symptoms are related to what health complications, but they can help you find solutions that work for you.
One solution your doctor may suggest if you’re experiencing stress incontinence symptoms is the new bladder support device called Revive. This FDA cleared and clinically-tested device is designed specifically for women and their anatomy to be comfortable and effective to reduce leaks for up to 12 hours a day. Application, removal, cleaning, and storage is simple and safe, with detailed instructions and a months supply of retrieval strings provided. No prescription or sizing needed! Find Revive at major retailers nationwide.