Healthy adults empty their bladder 6-10 times a day. When you start needing to go more frequently, it could be a sign of an overactive or sensitive bladder.
Overactive bladder describes a range of symptoms covering the feeling of needing to urinate frequently. Sometimes people with an overactive bladder also experience urge incontinence.
Sensitive bladder occurs in both men and women, but is most often diagnosed in elderly people. Some estimates show that 30-40% of people live with an overactive bladder, but it is difficult to get the real numbers, since many people with an overactive or sensitive bladder live in silence without asking for help.
What causes an overactive bladder?
Overactive or sensitive bladder covers a range of urinary symptoms and can have many causes, which is why it is important to consult a doctor or health care professional for guidance.
Generally, an overactive bladder develops from unnecessary bladder contractions, making the bladder feel full with even if it is not full. These contractions make a person feel an urgent need to urinate.
The overactive muscle can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or poor eating and drinking habits. Certain foods or drinks can cause irritation to the bladder, as can other irritants such as bladder stones. In addition, lifestyle factors, constipation, illness, diabetes, age, and many other factors can cause overactive bladder – or make the symptoms worse.
Overactive bladder in men
Sometimes overactive bladder in men can be caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract, such as an enlarged prostate. In men, the prostate grows with age. Therefore, this problem is more common in elderly men. Due to the obstruction of the urinary tract, the bladder is under constant pressure, eventually resulting in loss of bladder control.
Overactive bladder in women
In women, overactive bladder often occurs during pregnancy and after menopause. During pregnancy, due to the decreased space for the bladder and the increased pressure on the bladder, pregnant women need to visit the toilet more often. Some women also experience loss of bladder control during pregnancy due to hormonal imbalances.
During menopause, decreased estrogen production may weaken the mucosa of the bladder and urethra, leading to overactive bladder.
Stress and the overactive bladder
Stress affects many people and impacts many different aspects of health, including the bladder. Stress can also lead to unnecessary bladder contractions, even when the bladder is not completely full. This can lead to loss of bladder control.
A sensitive bladder caused by stress should not be confused with stress incontinence, which is the loss of bladder control due to injury or weakening of the bladder pelvic floor muscles. Sufficient exercise, breathing exercise and relaxation can reduce stress levels and hence prevent a sensitive bladder.
Solutions for an overactive bladder
Depending on the cause, there are many different solutions for an overactive or sensitive bladder. Visiting a health care practitioner is an important first step in finding a solution or relieving the symptoms of the overactive bladder.
Keeping a daily urination diary is often the first step prescribed by the doctor. The diary keeps track of how often and how much a person urinates, and how much and at what times of the day a person consumes liquids. This information will help the general practitioner, pelvic floor physiotherapist or any other involved specialists determine the reasons for the bladder problems.
In addition, bladder training may be recommended. During bladder training, visits to the toilet are gradually postponed, until the person has reduced daily visits to 8-10 visits. By using relaxation exercises and other distractions it is possible to suppress the urge to urinate.
If no improvements are seen after 3 months of bladder training, it may be possible to prescribe medicine to help relax the bladder muscles. However, some types of medicine may have unpleasant side effects, which is why it should always be considered with the advice of a medical professional.