Don’t Let Overactive Bladder Disrupt Your Life
Feel like you need to make a mad dash for the bathroom… again? You may have a condition known as overactive bladder (OAB). Overactive bladder causes a sudden and frequent urge to urinate, even if you don’t have a full bladder. Some people also have trouble maintaining control over their bladders, which can lead to embarrassing accidents.
You might feel resigned and chalk it up to aging, but it’s not just a normal part of aging, and you can do something about it. You can treat and learn to manage overactive bladder in order to minimize the disruptions to your life. Embracing a few overactive bladder tips may mean the difference between staying home and getting back out into the world.
The first step to managing overactive bladder is seeing a doctor, getting a diagnosis, and then working with your OAB specialist to find the right treatment path for you. That may entail a combination of strategies including medication, exercises, dietary changes, and other approaches.
Your doctor might suggest trying an anticholinergic medication, which can block a chemical that sends signals to your bladder to make it contract and release urine. This category of meds includes tolterodine (Detrol), oxybutynin (Ditropan, Oxytrol, or Gelnique), trospium (Sanctura), darifenacin (Enablex), solifenacin (Vesicare), and fesoterodine (Toviaz). Newer drugs called beta-3 adrenergic agonists can be helpful, too. These medications, including mirabegron (Myrbetriq) and vibegron (Gemtesa), relax the muscles of the bladder and increase bladder capacity. If those don’t work, there are other meds available and even botulinum toxin (Botox) injections for your bladder, which can help you maintain better control. If your first treatment doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try something else. It’s also helpful to know that medications can take some time to work effectively, and you need to take them regularly to get the most benefit.
Just like exercise does your body good, certain kinds of exercise may help your bladder, too. The first is the Kegel exercise. Kegels are pelvic floor exercises that strengthen the muscles that support your bladder. You squeeze the muscles that you use to start or stop urinating and hold the squeeze for about five seconds, then release. Repeat until you have performed 10 contractions. Then you can build up to several sets of 10 per day.
While you’re strengthening your pelvic floor, you can also train your bladder. This type of exercise entails training yourself, actually. You’re learning to delay urinating when you first feel the urge to go. You do have to be able to contract your pelvic floor muscles to hold it in. It may be hard at first, but if you start with small delays, you can build up until you’re able to go several hours between trips to the toilet. Ask your doctor to direct you to a pelvic floor physical therapist, who can guide you through the process.
Believe it or not, your diet can make a big difference in how often you need to pee. Here’s why: your favorite spicy dishes can irritate your bladder and send it into action. So can citrus fruit and carbonated beverages. You might want to cut back or even possibly avoid those items if they make it a lot harder to control your bladder.
Other foods and beverages that might irritate your bladder include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Caffeinated drinks, like coffee and tea
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners, including saccharin
- Tomatoes and tomato-based products.
There may even be more foods that provoke the sudden urge to go. Keep a diary, and as you identify them, you can make a note to avoid them or eat them only in moderation. You might also be conscious of avoiding foods that you know will irritate your bladder when you’re not sure you’ll be in easy reach of a bathroom.
Certain behavioral interventions can also be effective at helping you cope with overactive bladder. Biofeedback provides information about how your body works to help you learn how to make effective changes. Working with a pelvic floor therapist or doctor, electrical sensors are attached to your abdomen and near the anus or vagina. The sensors detect electrical signals coming from your pelvic floor muscles as you contract and flex those muscles. As you exercise those muscles, you’ll get immediate visual or auditory feedback to help you understand if you’re moving them correctly. Then you can figure out how and when to regulate your movements to make them more effective.
Even if you watch what you eat, practice your Kegel exercises, and take a medication to help you control your overactive bladder, it never hurts to be prepared, just in case. Here are a few tips that might help you:
- Schedule your toilet trips so your body will become accustomed to voiding at certain times–not all the time
- Wear absorbent pads to protect your clothing in the event of an accident
- Consider how much fluid you’re drinking and determine if there might be any benefit to cutting back
One more tip: try searching online for support groups for people with OAB. You might be able to learn some other road-tested strategies for managing overactive bladder from others who have the same condition.