One in six people in the UK suffer from an overactive bladder and need to visit the toilet many times a day, often with great urgency. This distressing condition can lead to social isolation, an inability to work and great embarrassment. It is surprisingly common but the underlying causes are not well known. It can affect anyone as they get older but this is a purely physiological problem, not an effect of dementia. An overactive bladder often responds well to lifestyle changes and coping strategies but medical and surgical treatments are available for the most severe cases.
This article on an overactive bladder is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What it means to have an overactive bladder
The kidneys produce a constant flow of urine as the body rids itself of toxic waste products. Producing more or less dilute urine also regulates the body’s fluid levels. If you drink two pints of water, for example, you naturally need the loo more often over the next couple of hours. Normally this is not a problem; urine accumulates in the bladder, which expands to accommodate it, until it’s convenient to pass water. Most people visit the toilet around five or six times a day and pass around 250-350ml of urine each time.
Overactive bladder syndrome occurs where the bladder muscles contract involuntarily before they need to, producing a sudden urgent need for the toilet. The problem makes those affected need to be near a toilet as they have to go very frequently and with little warning. In severe cases, an overactive bladder causes leaking, or urge incontinence, before reaching the toilet.
1 in 6 UK adults report some of the symptoms of overactive bladder and half experience urge incontinence. While overactive bladder increases with age, it should not be confused with urination problems related to dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or problems following a stroke, as in these cases there is an identifiable cause. Overactive bladder has no known cause.