Debbie’s Story: Life On Her Terms With Overactive Bladder

Debbie’s bladder was dictating her life, until proactive treatment let her take back the reins.

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As we get older, all kinds of things happen to our bodies. But one of the great victories of modern medicine is that we don’t have to accept these changes as simply inevitable. For Debbie of Toronto, one of those changes was an overactive bladder.

Overactive bladder is a condition that presents with an overwhelming need to suddenly urinate. That urgency can be accompanied by a need to urinate often, as well as by being woken up in the night one or more times by your bladder, and by occasional leakage when you can’t get to the bathroom on time.

Though overactive bladder gets more common with age, with as many as one in three women experiencing it by the age of 65, it’s absolutely not something that you have to accept. “Overactive bladder is not a normal part of aging,” says Dr. Dean Elterman, Staff Urologist at the University Health Network in Toronto. “It’s a huge fallacy to think of any medical condition as normal. It’s like saying that glaucoma or cancer is a normal part of aging, so therefore we shouldn’t treat them. We treat conditions that predominantly arise in older populations all the time, so why wouldn’t we treat an overactive bladder?”

A serious impact on quality of life

For women who suffer from untreated overactive bladder, the effects on their quality of life can be dramatic. “I found myself turning down opportunities, especially in remote places,” says Debbie. “I would find myself going the entire day without drinking anything. I had to plan my days carefully so that I would always know where the nearest bathroom was.”

These symptoms, and the life-affecting results, are extremely common, but they’re strictly biological and eminently treatable. Doctors today understand the mechanisms behind overactive bladder very well. “A normal bladder slowly turns up the volume of its signals to the brain as it reaches capacity,” explains Dr. Elterman. “For people who have an overactive bladder, rather than that slow increase, it’s like someone is taking the volume knob and cranking it quickly from low to high. Inappropriate signals are being sent to the brain, which the brain interprets as the bladder being dangerously full even when it’s not.”

Before and after treatment: “Night and day”

Debbie suffered for more than a decade before taking part in a medical trial that, through oral medications, allowed her to control her symptoms. “It was night and day,” she recalls. “I remember walking around in disbelief that I was not having any problems, and that I didn’t have to always be looking for the next bathroom. Before, I’d be hit with this sudden, agonizing urge that I needed to go right away. Then, on the treatment, I started to just get a gentle reminder from my bladder that it was time to maybe start thinking about finding a bathroom sometime soon. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like, and it hadn’t been that way for me for years.”

Since receiving treatment, Debbie has been able to resume her participation in the sport of rowing, which is very important to her, as well as travelling to New Zealand to visit her daughter, who lives there. These are things that would have been unthinkable when she was suffering from the worst of her overactive bladder symptoms. The treatment has, without exaggeration, given her life back. “A lot of people feel that they have lost control of their lives to their bladder,” says Dr. Elterman. “Finding the right therapy can empower people to take control of their lives back to the point where they can go out into the world without even thinking about their bladder.”

Debbie photographed at her home in Toronto, ON. (Photo: Max Rosenstein)

If you are experiencing overactive bladder symptoms you should consider speaking with your physician. If you’re looking for additional resources, the Canadian Urological Association is dedicated to providing the public with trusted information about overactive bladder symptoms and treatment. Please visit www.cua.org/en/patient to learn more.

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