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Bladder > Bladder Problems > Overactive Bladder

Overactive Bladder

If you get sudden urges to go to the toilet to pass urine which are difficult to ignore, you could be suffering from an overactive bladder. 

This is sometimes called an unstable or irritable bladder or detrusor overactivity. It means that your bladder wants to squeeze out urine, even if it not full.  The most common symptoms are listed below:

  • A sudden urge to go to the toilet to pass urine - Urgency
  • Not getting to the toilet in time to pass urine - Urge incontinence
  • Needing to go to the toilet to pass urine very often (more than 7 times a day) - Frequency
  • Getting up to go to the toilet to pass urine during the night - Nocturia
  • Wetting the bed - Nocturnal enuresis

Remember - an overactive bladder is not an inevitable part of ageing.

What causes an overactive bladder?

It is often hard to say what causes an overactive bladder. Doctors recognise several underlying causes and it is important to make sure that there is no other treatable problem causing your symptoms before you assume that your problem is due to an overactive bladder. We do know that some things can irritate the bladder and make symptoms worse. Such as;
  • Some fluids we drink may cause problems. Caffeine and alcohol may irritate the bladder and cause urgency and frequency. Some fizzy drinks and fruit teas containing hibiscus can also irritate the bladder.
  • On the other hand, some people do not drink enough fluids, their urine becomes very concentrated and this can also irritate the bladder.
  • Another common cause of urgency is an infection. Your doctor or practice nurse can do a simple urine dipstick test to see if there is an infection present.

Overactive bladder symptoms can be caused by a number of other conditions, including:

  • People who have diabetes can develop an overactive bladder.
  • Men with prostate problems, not neccesary prostate cancer.
  • Women who have had operations for stress incontinence are also at risk.
  • Any condition that affects the nervous system can cause problems. Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's are all possible causes. Some of these conditions can also cause problems getting around so that people affected may not be able to get to the toilet quickly enough.

For many people suffering from an overactive bladder, the actual cause can not be identified. It can be a relief to know that there is no other health problem causing your symptoms but it can also be frustrating and confusing not having a reason for the problem.

Approaching your GP

The urgent need to use the toilet or not being able to hold on can be a real problem for millions of people of all ages. If you have an overactive bladder, you are certainly not alone.

It is never too late to get help with your bladder problems. If you would like some advice on how to approach your GP regarding your bladder problem you may find our Advice Sheet helpful. It includes information on tests that your GP may recommend you have done and questions you need to be prepared for. To download, please click on this link Bladder Advice Sheet.

Patient Stories

Sometimes reading a patient story can help you more than reading a fact sheet.

We currently have an overactive bladder patient story available. If you would like read this real life account of living with an overactive bladder and the treatments used to manage the symptoms, please visit our Patient Stories section. 

Further Information

You can call our helpline on 0845 345 0165 (24 hour answerphone) for medical advice, or call our office on 01536 533255 to find out where your nearest NHS continence service is. 

We also have a factsheet on Overactive Bladder which includes more indepth information. Please visit our Resources section to download  this factsheet.

Please use the link boxes below to find out about treatment and product options to help you manage your symptoms.  

Last updated: 19/11/2014

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Overactive Bladder

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