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How to Manage Overactive Bladder

"You don't have to let overactive bladder symptoms rule your life."

Overactive bladder, also called urge incontinence, affects people in many ways. It makes it hard to get through your day without lots of trips to the bathroom, and can get in the way of your work, social life, exercise and sleep.

Learn about the causes of overactive bladder and effective lifestyle tips and techniques you can do at home to address it with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, holistic nutritionist.

Video Highlights

  • 00:38: The real number of people living with overactive bladder is likely larger than what's reported
  • 02:05: Both men and women are at risk for overactive bladder with age
  • 02:40:  Overactive bladder is not a disease. It's a group of urinary symptoms
  • 04:19:  Ways overactive bladder symptoms can affect your everyday life
  • 05:53:  You don't have to let overactive bladder symptoms rule your life
  • 06:22: Myths about overactive bladder
  • 07:11: Symptoms of overactive bladder
  • 09:01:  If you think you have this condition, see your healthcare provider
  • 09:18: Effective lifestyle changes for overactive bladder
  • 09:55:  Limit food and drinks that irritate the bladder
  • 10:43:  Keep a bladder diary
  • 11:12:  Double voiding
  • 11:45:  Delayed voiding
  • 12:31:  Scheduled voiding
  • 13:15:  Exercises to relax your bladder muscle
  • 17:35: How much water you should drink per day

The Condition that Impacts More Than 1/3 of American Men and Women

Overactive bladder is a frustrating, but common condition that is reported to affect 40% of women and 30% of men in the U.S. The real numbers of people who suffer from this condition are likely much higher than the statistics tell us. Many people who have overactive bladder don't ask for help. They may be embarrassed, or they may not know how to talk to their healthcare providers. Some don't ask for help because they think there are no treatments. 

This condition can interrupt our lives in so many ways. Simple things like jumping on the trampoline with your kids, or doing aerobic exercises, can be daunting if you have a bladder condition.  

Overactive bladder is also called "urge incontinence" and is caused by urinary muscle spasms. Pregnancy, excess weight, and genetic factors can all increase the risk of experiencing this condition, and it affects both men and women. Women who have gone through menopause and men who have experienced prostate problems both seem to be at a higher risk.

Overactive Bladder: What it Is, and What it Isn't

Overactive bladder is not a disease! It is the name of a group of urinary symptoms, including the sudden, urgent need to urinate, leaking urine, or frequent urination.

There is also another common bladder problem called Stress Urinary Incontinence, which is different than overactive bladder. People with Stress Urinary incontinence sometimes leak urine while sneezing, coughing, laughing, or performing physical activities such as jumping rope, hiking, or jogging.

Urinary and bladder issues affect many people and can get in the way of work, social life, exercise, and sleep. Overactive bladder symptoms can make it really hard to get through your day without multiple trips to the bathroom. It can control whether you jog outdoors in the sun, or on a treadmill, and make you nervous to go out with friends or do everyday activities, since you can't guarantee there will be a bathroom when you need one.

Overactive bladder may affect your relationships, and can rob you of your much-needed sleep. Additionally, urine leaking can lead to skin problems or infections. 

But you don't have to let overactive bladder symptoms rule your life. 

There are treatments available to help, so if you think you suffer from this condition, make sure to see your healthcare provider. There are also a number of simple lifestyle and other changes you can make on your own, which can make a big difference.

Myths About Overactive Bladder

There are several misconceptions surrounding overactive bladder, such as:

  • It's just part of being a woman. Of course that's not true, overactive bladder affects men as well.
  • For men, it is caused only by enlarged prostate. This is also not true. 
  • It's just part of aging. Just because you are aging does not mean you lose muscle control and develop overactive bladder
  • Surgery is the only treatment. Fortunately, there are other options!

Symptoms of Overactive Bladder

  1. Urgency: the most common symptom is a sudden strong urge to urinate that you can't ignore. 
  2. Leaking urine/incontinence: Some people experience incontinence after they feel the sudden urge. Some experience only minor leaks, such as a few drops, while others experience a sudden gushing or a large amount.
  3. Urinate frequently: Many people find that they need to visit a restroom far too often during the day and night. The number of trips differs from person to person, as everyone drinks different amounts of liquids, but many experts agree that going to the restroom more than 8 times in 24 hours qualifies as frequent urination. 
  4. Frequent night-time urination: If you wake up from sleep to go to the restroom more than once per night, that may be a symptom of overactive bladder.

If you think you have this condition, you'll want to visit your healthcare provider. They may provide treatments to help you manage your symptoms, or you may be referred to a specialist such as a urologist. But there are some great lifestyle changes that may help as well.

Effective Lifestyle Changes for Overactive Bladder

These lifestyle changes are also referred to as "behavioral therapy" and should be considered the first line of defense. These changes may not get rid of all of your symptoms, but many report having much fewer symptoms once they implement these tips.  

Limit food and drinks that irritate the bladder

This can include coffee, tea, artificial sweeteners, wine, fizzy drinks, citrus fruits, foods made with tomatoes, chocolate, and spicy foods. These are all irritants to the bladder and can trigger the urge to urinate more often. Try taking these bladder-irritating foods and drinks out of your diet.

Keep a bladder diary

Write down when you make trips to the bathroom for a few days. This can help you and your healthcare provider understand your symptoms much better, and let you know what makes your symptoms worse. For example, are your symptoms worse when you eat a certain type of food? When you don't drink enough liquids? Your bladder diary will help provide the answers.

Double voiding

This means emptying your bladder twice. This may be helpful if you have trouble emptying your bladder completely. After you go to the restroom, wait a few seconds, and then try to urinate again. 

Delayed voiding

In this method, you teach yourself to put off your trip to the restroom, even when you feel the strongest urge. At first just wait a few minutes, or even countdown from 20. Gradually, you will be able to wait much longer between bathroom visits. Tell your healthcare provider about this before you try it. Some people find worse symptoms or urine leaks if they wait too long, but most find this practice very beneficial.

Scheduled voiding

Make yourself a daily bathroom schedule. Then instead of going when you feel the urge, go at set times of day. Depending on how often you go now, your schedule will probably be set to every 2 - 4 hours. Then you go according to this schedule, whether you feel you need to or not. This is just training your body, and your body is very adaptable.

Exercises to relax your bladder muscle

This can help decrease the urgency of the feeling when it comes. Some call these exercises "quick flicks", because you quickly squeeze, then release the muscles in your pelvis several times. When you get that "gotta go" feeling, squeeze and then relax your pelvic floor muscles several times. This sends a message to your nervous system and back to your bladder to stop squeezing. As your bladder stops squeezing and starts relaxing, the urgent feeling starts to lessen. When you do this exercise, it helps to be still and relaxed, and concentrate just on the quick flicks.

Try these techniques and your symptoms should improve. Drugs, injections, and surgery are options down the road, but it's best to avoid them, and many people can. So start by doing the things that are most natural!  

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