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Women’s health

What is an overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a urological condition that affects men and women of all ages. An estimated 20% of Canadian women over the age of 35 suffer from OAB.

Normally when your bladder is full, nerves in the bladder send a signal to the brain indicating the need to go to the bathroom. Once you reach the bathroom, your brain sends a signal to the large muscle (the detrusor) in the bladder to contract. This contraction pushes the urine out of your bladder. At the same time, the support muscles surrounding your urethra (the sphincter muscles) get a signal from the brain to relax and allow the urine to pass through.

OAB occurs when the detrusor muscle contracts involuntarily. This causes the person to feel a sudden and sometimes overwhelming urge to urinate, even when the bladder is not full.

What are the symptoms of OAB?

Symptoms of OAB include:

  1. Frequent urination — more than 8 times per day
  2. An uncomfortably strong urge to urinate that is difficult to defer and is sometimes accompanied by a loss of urine due to the urgency sensation.

The causes of overactive bladder

There can be many possible causes of OAB, however, in the majority of cases, the cause is unknown. OAB problems can also occur when the nervous system does not work properly due to disease or injury.

Treatment options

OAB treatment may include:

  • Behavioural and lifestyle changes
  • Physical therapy — such as pelvic floor muscle exercises commonly called “Kegel” exercises
  • Bladder retraining — making a schedule for bathroom trips
  • Bio-feedback to ensure the correct muscles are being exercised
  • Dietary changes
  • Medication — in many instances, combining drug treatment with some of the non-medical management options described above
  • Surgery — a last resort treatment option

For support and information, search “overactive bladder” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

What is an overactive bladder?
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