Find a Doctor Find a Doctor
Time to see a specialist?
Time to see a specialist?
We found [COUNT] Specialists
who treat [INTEREST]
We found [COUNT] Specialists
who treat [INTEREST]
[TELEHEALTH] offer Telehealth options.
Your Guide to Overactive Bladder Relief

This content is created by Healthgrades and brought to you by an advertising sponsor. More

This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the Healthgrades advertising policy.

Overactive Bladder Facts

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
senior woman typing on laptop

Overactive bladder, also called urge incontinence, is the sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate several times during the day and night.

Urge incontinence is also called hyperactive or irritable bladder. It occurs when nerve passages along the pathway from the bladder to the brain give the wrong signal to the brain or the brain is unable to inhibit the bladder muscle from contracting.

Urinary incontinence is the loss of urine control, or the inability to hold your urine until you can reach a restroom. According to the National Association for Continence, approximately 25 million adult Americans experience temporary or chronic urinary incontinence. In addition to urge incontinence, there are three other basic types of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence, overflow incontinence, and functional incontinence.

Although urinary incontinence is possible at any age, it often starts between the ages of 30 and 50. Women older than age 50 are the most likely to develop it. Urinary incontinence may be a temporary condition, resulting from an underlying medical condition. It can range from the discomfort of slight losses of urine to severe, frequent wetting. A large percentage of those with urinary incontinence severely limit their interaction with other people to avoid embarrassment, and most do not even disclose their problem to their doctor.

Bladder control is a complex process that involves the brain, spinal cord, and muscles of the bladder and pelvis. For example, during routine urination certain muscles contract while others simultaneously relax. Loss of bladder control can be caused by problems with any of these components. Urinary incontinence is a symptom, not a disease. Some of the causes include normal changes in muscles because of aging, birth defects, pelvic surgery, injuries to the pelvic region or the spinal cord, neurological diseases, multiple sclerosis, infection, degenerative changes associated with aging, and pregnancy and childbirth.

For people with an overactive bladder and other types of urinary incontinence, it is important to consult a physician for an accurate diagnosis. A comprehensive evaluation includes a complete physical examination that focuses on the urinary and nervous systems, reproductive organs, and urine samples. Diagnostic tests include X-rays, blood work, a urine analysis, and examination of the bladder capacity, the amount of urine left in the bladder after urination. In many cases, patients will then be referred to an urologist, a physician who specializes in diseases of the urinary tract.

Treatment depends on the severity of your urge incontinence. Your doctor can help you decide on a course of action. Treatment usually begins with one or more of these methods: pelvic muscle rehabilitation such as Kegel exercises, bladder retraining, avoidance of bladder irritants such as caffeine and alcohol, FDA-approved medications, and surgery.

Was this helpful?

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  3. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

  4. National Association for Continence.

  5. American Urological Association Foundation.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 2
View All Your Guide to Overactive Bladder Relief Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.