One of the most popular myths about an overactive bladder is that it’s a normal part of aging. The truth is that an overactive bladder (OAB) is a chronic condition that can happen at any age. Women are more prone to experience symptoms of an overactive bladder, including the uncontrolled need or urge to urinate. Multiple studies reveal that 40 percent of women in the United States live with OAB, and many fail to seek help. In some cases, people living with this condition tend to feel embarrassed and withdrawn from living an active social life.
We tapped Dr. Christopher Walker, urogynecologist, and regenerative medicine specialist, to gain insight into symptoms, causes, and effective treatments for an overactive bladder.
- What are the warning signs or common symptoms of an overactive bladder in women? Statistically, women are more likely than men to report OAB symptoms. Some warning signs include constantly feeling the “urge to go,” even soon after urinating, waking up in a rush to go to the bathroom when you are deep asleep, and becoming overly concerned about a sudden need to urinate.
- What is the main cause of an overactive bladder? A full bladder often triggers a reaction in your brain that tells you it is “time to go.” However, in a woman with an overactive bladder the brain may trigger a false urge, even with an empty bladder. The unwanted contractions of the bladder muscle (detrusor muscle) is the root cause of an overactive bladder. This can be related to the presence of bladder stones, nerve injuries, pelvic injuries, hormonal changes, pelvic muscle spasms, and urinary tract infections. These are among the most common causes of an OAB. Poor lifestyle choices, such as consuming too much alcohol or caffeine, can also contribute to this condition.
- How can women manage or get treatment for OAB? Effective treatment for an overactive bladder starts by acknowledging you have a problem and that it will not go away on its own. Women with symptoms of an overactive bladder should find a health care provider who can screen them for common and uncommon triggers. There are a variety of medical and surgical treatments available, such as prescription drugs, behavioral therapies, nerve stimulation, bladder Botox treatment, and even an out- patient surgical procedure called an InterStim implant. It’s also critical for patients to consider making lifestyle changes by avoiding food and drinks that may affect the bladder.
- Are there any alternative treatments or therapies for OAB? Regenerative cells (“stem cells”), collected from fat (adipose) tissue, bone marrow, or blood cells, can be injected into the bladder. The main action of these cells is to repair or replace the damaged bladder tissue and restore normal function. This procedure can also decrease any inflammation, as noted in conditions such as Interstitial cystitis – a chronic illness that causes discomfort or pain in the bladder or pelvic region. Some research studies reveal a greater than 70 percent improvement in the relief of bladder related symptoms with this technology.
- What happens if overactive bladder is left untreated? Overactive bladder can become not just a nuisance but a mentally-crippling condition. It can disrupt and negatively impact how you perform at work, your social life, sleeping habits, and sexual function. People living with untreated OAB can end up suffering from depression, anxiety, and emotional stress.