Overactive bladder — signs, causes, and treatments

Overactive bladder is the frequent and urgent need to urinate. In the United States, this frustrating condition affects an estimated 33 million men and women.1

Signs of overactive bladder

You may have overactive bladder if you experience the following symptoms:

  • A sudden urge to pee that's difficult to control.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Leaks or loss of urine.
  • Waking up more than two times in the night to pee.

What causes overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder occurs when the communication between the bladder and the brain gets interrupted. When your bladder is getting full, the brain sends you a signal to let you know that soon you will need to go to the bathroom. In the case of people who have overactive bladder, there is no waiting. People often feel a sudden urge to urinate, and this can happen even when the bladder is not full.1

Overactive bladder can be caused by several factors and health conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Medication
  • Neurological diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Surgery
  • Urinary tract infections

Five myths about overactive bladder

There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to overactive bladder, its causes, and who it affects. Here are five common overactive bladder myths and the truth behind them:

Myth #1 — Only women suffer from an overactive bladder

While it's commonly believed that overactive bladder only affects women, especially older ones, this is not true. Overactive bladder affects both men and women of varying ages.

Myth #2 — Overactive bladder is just another name for incontinence

There are many types of incontinence . Overactive bladder is also called urgency incontinence because it affects the urge to empty your bladder. It causes you to feel like you need to use the restroom more often than usual but doesn't usually cause leaks.

Myth #3 — There's a "normal" number of times I should use the bathroom in a day

The number of times you pee throughout the day depends on your lifestyle. Most people pee about seven to eight times per day, on average. More times than that can still be considered normal if you drink lots of fluids or take certain medications.2 If you're having to "go" more often than usual, it may be time to speak to your doctor.

Myth #4 — Drinking fewer fluids will lessen the symptoms of overactive bladder

This is not true. Because overactive bladder can be caused by a brain-to-bladder miscommunication, you may feel the urge to pee even when your bladder is not full. Drinking less water to prevent having to pee can lead to dehydration.

Myth #5 — An overactive bladder is just a part of getting older

Because many believe this myth is true, fewer than half of people with incontinence consult a doctor about their problem. The truth is many treatments are available to combat the symptoms of overactive bladder.

Overactive bladder treatment options

When noticing changes in your body's functions, talking with your doctor is always a good idea. They can discuss treatment options and help you make any needed changes.

Treatments to manage the symptoms of overactive bladder include:3

  • Behavioral modifications — changes in diet, fluid intake, and bladder training. 
  • Medication — to relieve urgency or help with retention.
  • Noninvasive treatments — pelvic floor exercises, injection therapy, and nerve stimulation. 
  • Surgery — bladder enlargement.

Carelon Health offers Advanced Primary Care that can help you manage your overactive bladder and become a healthier version of yourself. Visit the Advanced Primary Care page to learn more.

1 Mayo Clinic Health System: What can you do for an overactive bladder? (accessed September 2023): mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
2 Cleveland Clinic: Frequent Urination (accessed September 2023): my.clevelandclinic.org.
3 National Association for Continence: What is overactive bladder (OAB)? (accessed September 2023): nafc.org.