Overactive Bladder (OAB) is a common condition often due to one’s bladder contracting (squeezing) at any time without warning. This involuntary bladder contraction can give rise to the symptoms of urgency, frequency (daytime and nighttime) and urgency incontinence. The key symptom of OAB is urinary urgency (a.k.a. “gotta go”), the sudden and compelling desire to urinate that is difficult to postpone. This problem can occur in both women and men, although it is more common in females.
Although OAB symptoms can occur without specific provocation, they may be triggered by exposure to running water, cold or rainy weather, hand-washing, entering the shower, positional changes such as arising from sitting, and getting nearer and nearer to a bathroom, particularly at the time of placing the key in the door to one’s home.
12 Steps To Overcoming OAB
The goal of these 12 steps is to re-establish control of the urinary bladder. Providing that the recommendations are diligently adhered to, there can be significant improvement, if not resolution, of OAB symptoms.
- Fluid and caffeine moderation/medication assessment. Symptoms of OAB will often not occur until a “critical” urinary volume is reached, and by limiting fluid intake, it will take a longer time to achieve this volume. Try to sensibly restrict your fluid intake in order to decrease the volume of urinary output. Caffeine (present in tea, coffee, colas, some energy drinks and chocolate) and alcohol increase urinary output and are urinary irritants, so it is best to limit intake of these beverages/foods. Additionally, many foods—particularly fruits and vegetables—have hidden water content, so moderation applies here as well. It is important to try to consume most of your fluid intake before 7 p.m. to improve nocturnal frequency. Diuretic medications (water pills) can contribute to OAB symptoms. It is worthwhile to check with your medical doctor to see if it is possible to change to an alternative, non-diuretic medication. This will not always be feasible, but if so, may substantially improve your symptoms.
- Urgency inhibition. Reacting to the first sense of urgency by running to the bathroom needs to be substituted with urgency inhibition techniques. Stop in your tracks, sit, relax and breathe deeply. Pulse your pelvic floor muscles rhythmically to deploy your own natural reflex to resist and suppress urgency.
- Timed voiding (for incontinence). Urinating by the “clock” and not by your own sense of urgency will keep your bladder as empty as possible. By emptying the bladder before the critical volume is reached (at which urgency incontinence occurs), the incontinence can be controlled. Voiding on a two-hour basis is usually effective, although the specific timetable has to be tailored to the individual in accordance with the voiding diary. Such “preemptive” or “defensive” voiding is a very useful technique since purposeful urinary frequency is more desirable than incontinence.
- Bladder retraining (for urgency/frequency). This is imposing a gradually increasing interval between voids to establish a more normal pattern of urination. Relying on your own sense of urgency often does not give you accurate information about the status of your bladder fullness. Urinating by the “clock” and not by your own sense of urgency will keep your voided volumes more appropriate. Voiding on a two-hour basis is usually effective as a starting point, although the specific timetable has to be tailored to the individual, based upon the voiding diary. A gradual and progressive increase in the interval between voiding can be achieved by consciously delaying urinating. A goal of an increase in the voiding interval by 15-30 minutes per week is desirable. Eventually, a return to more acceptable voiding intervals is possible. The urgency inhibiting techniques mentioned above are helpful with this process.
- Bowel regularity. Avoidance of constipation is an important means of helping control OAB symptoms. Because of the proximity of the rectum and bladder, a full rectum can put pressure on the bladder, resulting in worsening of urgency, frequency and incontinence.
- Pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT). All patients need to understand the vital role of the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) in inhibiting urgency and frequency and preventing urge leakage. PFMT voluntarily employs the PFM to help stimulate inhibitory reflexes between the pelvic floor muscles and the bladder. Rhythmic pulsing of the PFM can inhibit an involuntary contraction once it starts and prevent an involuntary contraction before it even begins. Initially, one must develop an awareness of the presence, location, and nature of the PFM and then train these muscles to increase their strength and tone. These are not the muscles of the abdominal wall, thighs or buttocks. A simple means of recognizing the PFM for a female is to insert a finger inside her vagina and squeeze the PFM until the vagina tightens around her finger. A simple means of identifying the PFM for either gender is to start urinating and when about half completed, to abruptly stop the stream. It is the PFM that allows one to do so. It is important to recognize the specific triggers that induce urgency, frequency or incontinence and prior to exposure to a trigger or at the time of the perceived urgency, rhythmic pulsing of the PFM–“snapping” the PFM several times–can either preempt the abnormal bladder contraction before it occurs or diminish or abort the bladder contraction after it begins. Thus, by actively squeezing the PFM just before and during these trigger activities, the urgency can be diminished and the urgency incontinence can often be avoided.
- Lifestyle measures: healthy weight, exercise, tobacco cessation. The burden of excess pounds can worsen OAB issues by putting pressure on the urinary bladder. Even a modest weight loss may improve OAB symptoms. Pursuing physical activities can help maintain general fitness and improve urinary control. Lower impact exercises – yoga, pilates, cycling, swimming – can best help alleviate pressure on the urinary bladder by boosting core muscle strength and tone and improving posture and alignment. The chemical constituents of tobacco constrict blood vessels, impair blood flow, decrease tissue oxygenation and promote inflammation, compromising the bladder, urethra and PFM. By eliminating tobacco, symptoms of OAB can be improved.
- Bladder relaxant medications. A variety of medications are useful to suppress OAB symptoms. It may take several trials of different medications or combinations of medications to achieve optimal results. The medications include the following: Tolterodine (Detrol LA), Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL), Transdermal Oxybutynin (Oxytrol patch), Oxybutynin gel (Gelnique), Trospium (Sanctura), Solifenacin (Vesicare), Darifenacin (Enablex) and Fesoterodine (Toviaz). The most common side effects are dry mouth and constipation. These medications cannot be used in the presence of urinary or gastric retention or uncontrolled narrow-angle glaucoma. The newest medication, Mirabegron (Myrbetriq), has a different mechanism of action and fewer side effects.
- Biofeedback. This is an adjunct to PFMT in which electronic instrumentation is used to relay feedback information about your PFM contractions. This can enhance awareness and strength of the PFM.
- Botox treatment. This is a simple office procedure in which Botox is injected directly into the bladder muscle, helping reduce OAB symptoms by relaxing those areas of the bladder into which it is injected. Botox injections generally will last for six to nine months and are covered by Medicare and most insurance companies.
- Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS). This is a minimally invasive form of neuromodulation in which a tiny acupuncture-style needle is inserted near the tibial nerve in the ankle and a hand-held stimulator generates electrical stimulation with the intent of improving OAB symptoms. This is done once weekly for 12 weeks.
- Interstim. This is a more invasive form of neuromodulation in which electrical impulses are used to stimulate and modulate sacral nerves in an effort to relieve OAB symptoms. A battery-powered neuro-stimulator (bladder “pacemaker”) provides the mild electrical impulses that are carried by a small lead wire to stimulate the selected sacral nerves that affect bladder function.