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December 29, 2020

Common causes of an overactive bladder

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It’s easy to take bladder control for granted, since it’s something we do automatically after mastering it as children. But for some adults, that control starts to decline thanks to an overactive bladder.

Overactive bladder can be a particularly embarrassing condition that can impact your work, family, and social life. Although it has many causes, the symptoms of overactive bladder are the same: frequent and sudden urges to urinate that are difficult to control. This can manifest through a need to go often during the day and at night, or through incontinence (inability to control urination). Those who urinate more than eight times per day or get up twice in the middle of the night should make an appointment with a doctor to get checked for an overactive bladder.

During normal bladder function, urine moves from your kidneys into your bladder, then into your urethra — and out of your body from there. As your bladder fills with urine, nerve signals tell your brain it’s time to go, and when you’re ready, the sphincter relaxes and your body pushes the urine right out. Overactive bladder occurs when the bladder muscles contract involuntarily, creating an urgent need to use the restroom (even if the bladder isn’t full).

Here are some common causes of overactive bladder:

Diabetes: damage to blood vessels and nerves from diabetes can lead to an overactive bladder.

Urinary tract infections: UTIs can cause an overactive bladder due to overactivity in the muscle of the bladder wall, resulting in the need to urinate more often.

Menopause: reduced estrogen levels can cause thinning of the urethra, and pelvic floor muscles can also weaken with aging. These changes can make it more difficult to control the bladder.

Bladder stones: hard buildups of minerals in the bladder can block the flow of urine, resulting in an overactive bladder.

Bladder cancer: any type of abnormality in the bladder can result in difficulty controlling function, including certain tumors.

Enlarged prostate: in men, this can obstruct bladder outflow, making it harder for your body to control bladder function.

Excessive caffeine or alcohol: too much of these (and the liquids that contain them) can make bladder function difficult.

Declining cognitive function: as people get older, they can have difficulty interpreting the nerve signals that tell them when it's time to urinate.

Medications: some medicines cause an increase in urine production or must be taken with water, which can lead to an overactive bladder as a side effect.

Sometimes the specific cause of an overactive bladder is not known, or it can accompany less-common conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or previous surgeries to treat incontinence.

One thing that is not a cause of overactive bladder: getting older. While it’s true that an overactive bladder isn’t uncommon in older people, it’s not normal. Even if it’s an embarrassing or difficult conversation, it’s one to have with your doctor; some of the causes above could be serious.

Finally, remember that there are a lot of simple ways to help manage the symptoms of overactive bladder. Controlling the amount of fluids you drink (and not drinking close to bedtime) and strengthening your bladder through training or pelvic exercises can all help make a difference.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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