Dealing with an Overactive Bladder



The Symptoms of an Overactive Bladder

Urinary frequency — often having to go to the bathroom more than 8 times in 24 hours;  frequency at night (nocturia) may include waking up to urinate 2 or more times

Urgency — a strong and sudden desire to urinate

Accidental loss of urine — associated with a simultaneous sudden and uncontrollable urge to urinate (urge incontinence)


Seeing a Doctor for Overactive Bladder

When you have a bladder control problem, you may find it difficult to talk about your symptoms. Many people who are now getting treatment for their bladder control problems also used to feel shy, ashamed, or embarrassed about their condition. But they took the first step and talked to their healthcare providers. Now many of them are receiving treatment and are on their way to a better quality of life.

Overactive bladder can be treated by your family doctor or, if you are a woman, you can discuss your symptoms with a gynecologist. In some cases, your family doctor or gynecologist may refer you to a specialist, such as a urologist or urogynecologist – a doctor who specializes in bladder and urine control problems.


Before You Make an Appointment to See Your Doctor

To help get ready to talk to a doctor about a bladder control problem, you should be prepared to talk about your symptoms and your medical history. It may be helpful to keep a diary in which you write down how much you drink each day, how often you go to the bathroom, and the amount urinated each time. You may also consider filling in the screening questionnaire at the end of this article. Bringing your diary and the completed questionnaire to the doctor’s office will help you talk about your symptoms.

When you call to make an appointment, be sure to say that you would like to discuss a bladder control problem. Or, if you are already seeing your doctor for another reason, don’t wait until the end of the appointment to bring up your symptoms. The doctor will need time to evaluate your symptoms and find out if they are related to another condition.

Make a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medicines that you are taking, and bring the list with you to your appointment. Women who have had children will need to discuss their pregnancy and childbirth experiences.


At the Doctor’s Office

After the doctor has asked you questions and reviewed any written information that you provided, you may undergo a physical exam. In addition, the doctor may want to perform some simple tests to help find the reason for your problem.

Urinalysis is one of the most commonly used tests for the evaluation of bladder control problems. It involves the in-depth examination of a urine sample, which is analyzed to determine whether your symptoms are caused by overactive bladder or another problem, such as a urinary tract infection.

If further tests are needed, a family doctor or gynecologist may refer you to a urologist. Such tests are only performed when the doctor feels that more information is required to confirm or clarify a diagnosis.  One of these tests, called cystoscopy involves the use of a thin telescope, to allow the doctor to see the inside of the bladder to check for tumors or stones, which can mimic the symptoms of the overactive bladder.  In addition, the doctor may perform urodynamic testing, which helps to assess several aspects of bladder function, including whether the bladder and sphincter muscles are functioning properly; whether you have normal bladder sensations and sufficient bladder capacity (the ability to hold an appropriate amount of urine); and whether your bladder fills and empties normally. An x-ray test called a cystogram may also be used to examine how the position of the bladder and urethra changes during normal urinating, coughing, or straining.

Your doctor can explain how each of the test results will be used. The results may help determine whether you have a bladder control problem or some other condition (such as a urinary tract infection) and can help identify the type of bladder control problem you may have. After the test results have been analyzed, the doctor will be able to give you a diagnosis and will then describe your treatment options.

If your doctor prescribes medication for your bladder control problem, there are a few important things you should know before the end of your appointment:

·      What medication will you be taking?

·      How often should you take the medication?

·      How long do you need to take the medication?

·      What side effects may occur?

·      When do you need to come in for a follow-up visit?

Remember — nearly everyone with a bladder control problem can be helped, so schedule your appointment soon!

For more information on overactive bladder, visit:

American Foundation for Urologic Disease

American Medical Women’s Association – Overactive Bladder Initiative

National Association for Continence

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Pharmacia & Upjohn –

The Simon Foundation for Continence

WellnessWeb – Access to Continence Care and Treatment


A Questionnaire to Help You and Your Doctor Understand Your Symptoms

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have overactive bladder. Occasionally, some of these symptoms may be associated with other, more serious conditions. These symptoms should be discussed with a doctor.

You may want to print this questionnaire, answer the questions, and bring it with you to the doctor’s office. It might help you talk about your symptoms and assist the doctor in determining the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

·      Do you urinate more than 8 times in a 24-hour period?

·      Do you frequently get up 2 or more times during the night to go to the bathroom

·      Do you have uncontrollable urges to urinate that sometimes result in wetting accidents?

·      Do you frequently limit your fluid intake when you are away from home so that you won’t have to worry about finding a bathroom?

·      When you are in a new place, do you make sure you know where the bathroom is?

·      Do you avoid places if you think there won’t be a bathroom nearby?

·      Do you frequently have strong, sudden urges to urinate?

·      Do you go the bathroom so often that it interferes with the things you want to do?

·      Do you use pads to protect your clothes from wetting?

These questions were adapted from a questionnaire provided by the Bladder Health Council of the American Foundation for Urologic Diseases (AFUD) as part of the Overactive Bladder Screening Initiative.