Overactive Bladder: Stop Dancing Around The Issue

Everybody pees. But, for the roughly 15 percent of women who suffer from overactive bladder, urination stops being routine and becomes a serious burden that can devastate their quality of life.


Dr. Sender Herschorn photographed at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo: Max Rosenstein)

When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. Everyone has those occasional moments of having held it a bit too long and then needing to desperately sprint (or waddle with knees held together) for the washroom. That’s a normal part of life. What’s very much not a normal part of life is having to live that moment multiple times a day, every day.

Overactive bladder is a syndrome that affects millions of Canadian women of all ages, many of whom don’t even realize they have a condition. “The main and hallmark symptom is urinary urgency,” says Dr. Sender Herschorn, a professor in the Division of Urology at the University of Toronto. “You get a feeling you’ve got to go. It’s sudden, it’s urgent, and you feel like you may not be able to hold it until you get to the washroom.”

Though that sudden need to go right now is the main symptom of overactive bladder, it’s not the only one. “Overactive bladder is also associated with urinary frequency, defined loosely as urinating eight or more times a day,” says Dr. Herschorn. “The other main symptoms are nocturia, which just means waking up one or more times a night, with or without feelings of urinary urgency, as well as urinary incontinence, which is when you don’t get to the washroom in time, before leaking urine.”

Those who suffer from overactive bladder may experience some or all of these symptoms. And, though overactive bladder affects both women and men, women are more likely to experience incontinence, which can be one of the most difficult and embarrassing aspects of the condition.

You’re not alone

The constant need to be close to a toilet can be extremely stressful and isolating. Some women are reluctant to leave the house in case the urge strikes at a time when no washroom is nearby. The good news is that not only is this a common condition, it’s also something your doctor can help you with. “There’s absolutely no reason why a person should not bring this up with their doctor,” says Dr. Greg Bailly, a professor in the Department of Urology at Dalhousie University. “It has every bit as much of an impact on quality of life as other chronic conditions. It affects social interaction. It affects employment. It affects sleep. It’s associated with increased risk of anxiety and depression. This is an important health issue that should not be swept aside, especially when we have such good treatment options.”

A wealth of options for proactive treatment

Treatment plans can vary from person to person, but there are options available that can help almost everyone. “There are multiple different treatments available,” says Dr. Bailly. “These start with behavioural modification, where patients can make changes in their lifestyles, including modifying their fluid intake and performing pelvic floor muscle exercises. Pelvic floor physiotherapy can be very effective. There are also excellent medical therapies. In the last ten years, we’ve been fortunate to see our medical options grow, and we now have about seven good medications to choose from.”

Though overactive bladder gets more common with age, it’s not a normal or inevitable part of aging. It’s not something you have to live with. If you feel your bladder is taking over your life, seek help, just as you would for any other problem. “It’s like your eyesight,” says Dr. Herschorn. “As you get older, your eyesight generally gets worse. You can go around blindly bumping into things, or you can get glasses. You don’t have to just accept it. There is treatment available.”

Dr. Sender Herschorn photographed at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre 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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