Living with overactive bladder — also called OAB — can be a challenge, with the urge to urinate occurring often and suddenly. It can be doubly frustrating when you don’t know what causes overactive bladder. Yet you’re not alone; as many as one in six adults over age 40 may have symptoms of OAB.
When and Why Overactive Bladder Occurs
Overactive bladder occurs when the muscles surrounding the neck of the bladder involuntarily contract more often than normal and at inappropriate times, usually when the bladder is only half full instead of three-quarters or more.
Your mind reads those contractions as an urgent need to urinate. If you have “dry” OAB, you’ll make it to the bathroom on time but not without worry and anxiety. If you have the “wet” form of overactive bladder, you may not always make it without leaking urine.
Causes of Overactive Bladder
The symptoms of overactive bladder have many causes, including:
- Side effects from medications, especially diuretics (water pills) and drugs with caffeine
- Neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Urinary tract infection
- Tumors or other abnormalities in the bladder such as bladder cancer
- Inflammation of the prostate or prostate cancer in men
- Nerve damage caused by trauma to the abdominal area or pelvis or prior surgery
- Bladder outlet obstruction due to previous surgery for incontinence
The Link Between Overactive Bladder and Other Health Problems
You may be more likely to have an overactive bladder if you also have certain health issues. These include fibromyalgia (a condition marked by muscular pain and fatigue) and irritable bowel syndrome (a condition whose symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea, or both).
If you have depression, anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), some experts also think you are more prone to OAB.
What’s the link? Scientists are not sure. But it might be that conditions such as depression, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and changes in urination are all associated with a disturbance in brain circuits that use specific neurotransmitters, especially the neurotransmitter serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow an impulse to go from one nerve cell to another.
In addition, some scientists believe that some individuals are just predisposed to having an overactive bladder.
That doesn’t mean you have to “just live with it.” And you don’t have to feel embarrassed. OAB is treatable. Talk to your doctor to get at the cause of your overactive bladder — and to start the treatment that can help you take back control.