Urology Blog

How to Tell if Your Incontinence is Overactive Bladder

Urinary Incontinence is quite common with 38% of women and 9% of men reporting at least one episode of urinary incontinence (unplanned loss of urine). But what exactly is the cause of this urine leakage and how can you tell if Overactive Bladder (OAB) is the cause of your incontinence?

OAB is usually characterized by a sudden urge to urinate that is difficult to control (urinary urgency).  People with OAB may also report urinary frequency  (urinating more than 8 times per day is usually considered abnormal). They may be bothered by nocturia (getting up more than 1 time at night). About 2/3 of patients with OAB will also experience urgency incontinence (urine leakage associated with urgency).  Not all people with OAB experience leakage and the leakage may be a small or very large amount.

But OAB and urgency incontinence are different from another common type of urine leakage called stress incontinence. In stress incontinence (SUI), people leak with coughing, laughing, sneezing, lifting or other exertional activities. This is caused by a weakness in the muscles that support the bladder and urethra. It is important to know that many people experience both types of incontinence.

One of the best ways to distinguish between these types of urine leakage is to complete a voiding diary. This is a 1 or 3 day record of how often you urinate and what you may be doing during episodes of leakage. Not only is this helpful but it is extremely easy and inexpensive.

Of course, there are some other conditions, some quite concerning, that can mimic the symptoms of overactive bladder. Among these are kidney stones, bladder tumors and complications from previous surgeries. This is why it can be helpful to meet with a health care provider to review your history and discuss treatment options.

Overactive Bladder (OAB) is a common problem that can have an immense impact on the lives of men and women. However, identification of this disorder is often simple and straightforward and can lead to tremendous improvement in your quality of life. Don’t let fear or embarrassment keep you from taking back control!

-Colin M. Goudelocke, MD, FPMRS

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