Overactive bladder (OAB) is a medical problem that affects the way your bladder behaves. OAB is an involuntary and sudden contraction or squeezing of the muscle in the wall of the bladder, even when the volume of urine in your bladder is low.

Anatomy of the bladder

With OAB, the bladder works overtime, contracting (shortening of the detrusor muscle) more often than it should and at inappropriate times. In people with overactive bladder, the bladder muscles seem to give wrong messages to the brain causing the bladder to feel fuller than it actually is. With OAB, the bladder contracts too early when the bladder is not very full, and not when you want it to. This involuntary contraction creates the urgent need to urinate. In effect, you have much less control over when your bladder contracts to pass urine.

These contractions give rise to the symptoms associated with OAB such as urgently needing to pass urine, frequently needing to go to the toilet (eight or more times a day, or two or more times a night), and in some cases accidental leakage of urine because of not getting to the toilet in time.

Understanding OAB (PDF)

A Common Condition

OAB is not an unusual condition. If you have an overactive bladder, you are certainly not alone. It is estimated that 7.12% of the UK population over the age of 40, approximately 2,354,919 people, may be affected by OAB.2,3 It is a condition that affects both men and women of all ages and can significantly impact the quality of life.

Some people who suffer from OAB are "OAB dry” - they feel an urgent need to urinate and may make frequent trips to use the toilet, but they are able to make it to the bathroom in time. Even if you are able to get to the toilet in time when you sense an urge to urinate, unexpected and frequent visits to the toilet, day and night, can disrupt your life. However, for some people the urge may be difficult to stop, and an overactive bladder may lead to the involuntary loss of urine. This is referred to as urge incontinence. OAB could result from problems of the nervous system or other causes.1 However, in many cases, the exact cause of the involuntary contraction associated with OAB is unknown. Although you may feel embarrassed approaching your doctor about your bladder problem, it is important to remember that help is available in the form of advice, bladder training, pelvic floor exercises and medication. Speaking to somebody can often make you feel less anxious, more in control, and put you on the road to managing your bladder condition.

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