128 Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB) - Incontinence Health Library

Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB)

Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB)

Your healthcare provider has told you that you have overactive bladder syndrome (OAB). Why OAB occurs is not known. But treatments are available to help control the bladder muscle and manage OAB. Read on to learn more.

What Is Overactive Bladder Syndrome?

OAB causes the bladder muscle to contract (squeeze involuntarily). This causes an intense urge to urinate, known as urgency. Urgency can occur many times during the day and night. In some cases, accidental urine leakage occurs with the urgency. This is called urge incontinence. A disease that affects the bladder nerves, such as multiple sclerosis, can lead to OAB. Other conditions, such as urinary tract infection (UTI) or prostate problems in men, can lead to OAB.  But the exact cause of OAB is often not known.

How Is Overactive Bladder Syndrome Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider examines you and asks about your symptoms and health history. You may also have one or more of the following:

  • Urine test to take samples of urine and have them checked for problems.

  • Urinary diary to record how much fluid you take in and urinate out in a three-day period.

  • Bladder ultrasound to study the bladder as it empties. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create detailed images of the inside of the body.

  • Cystoscopy to allow the healthcare provider to look for problems in the urinary tract. The test uses a thin, flexible scope called a cystoscope with a light and camera on the end. The scope is inserted into the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

  • Cystometry (CMG) to test how well the bladder functions as it fills and empties. Two thin, flexible plastic tubes called catheters may be used for CMG. One is inserted into the urethra until it reaches the bladder. The other tube may be placed in the rectum. The tubes help measure the pressure in the bladder or rectum.

How Is Overactive Bladder Syndrome Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your OAB. Treatments may include the following:

  • Changing urination habits may be suggested. For instance, your healthcare provider may suggest that you urinate as soon as you feel the urge. You may also need to limit how much fluid you have during the day.

  • Exercising your pelvic muscles can help strengthen muscles used during urination. These exercises are called Kegels. They involve contracting as if you were stopping your urine stream and tightening your rectum as if trying not to pass gas. Your healthcare provider can help you learn how to do Kegels.

  • Biofeedback to help you learn to control the movement of your bladder muscles. Sensors are placed on your abdomen. They turn signals given off by your muscles into lines on a computer screen.

  • Medication may be given to relax the bladder muscle. Medication can also help ease bladder contractions, which reduces the urge to urinate.

  • Neuromodulation may be done if medication and behavioral changes don't work. Electrical pulses are sent to the sacral nerves (nerves that affect the pelvic area). These pulses help relieve OAB and urge incontinence.

  • Surgery to make the bladder larger may be done in severe cases.

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

With treatment, OAB can be managed. A condition, such as UTI, that has caused you to have OAB will be treated. Treatment may involve taking medications for months or years. You may also need to make changes in your daily routine. This may include going to the bathroom more often than you think you need to. Or, you may need to cut back on caffeine and alcohol because these can make OAB symptoms worse. Your healthcare provider can tell you more.

Call the healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher 

  • No improvement with treatment

  • Trouble urinating because of pain

  • Back or abdominal pain