Coping with Overactive Bladder (OAB), Whether You Have Urinary Incontinence (UI) or Not

Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI) are two related conditions that can have a significant impact on quality of life. They can occur separately or in conjunction with each other, and managing them involves a combination of lifestyle modifications, medication, and potentially surgical intervention.

Explanation and Overview of Overactive Bladder (OAB) & Urinary Incontinence (UI)

Overactive bladder, commonly referred to as OAB, is a condition characterized by a sudden urge to urinate that can be difficult to control. Symptoms of OAB can also include the need to urinate more frequently than usual, nocturia (the need to urinate several times during the night), and urinary incontinence, specifically the involuntary loss of urine associated with a strong urge to urinate, known as urge incontinence.

Urinary incontinence is a broad term used to describe the loss of bladder control. The severity can vary from occasional leaking when coughing or sneezing (stress incontinence), to a sudden, intense urge to urinate those results in involuntary loss of urine (urge incontinence). Some people may experience a combination of both, referred to as mixed incontinence. There is also overflow incontinence, where the bladder is so full that it leaks urine, and functional incontinence, where physical or mental limitations prevent a person from reaching the toilet in time.

Is There Any Connection Between Overactive Bladder (OAB) & Urinary Incontinence (UI)

– Urge incontinence, which is characterized by a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine, is often a symptom of OAB.

– Thus, people with OAB often experience UI due to the sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate.

– However, it’s possible to have OAB without experiencing incontinence, if one can reach the toilet in time upon feeling the urge to urinate.

– It’s also possible to have UI without OAB. For instance, in stress incontinence, leakage of urine occurs when pressure is exerted on the bladder (like during exercise, coughing, or laughing) rather than due to a sudden urge to urinate.

– Moreover, many individuals experience mixed symptoms, such as both stress and urge incontinence, known as mixed UI.

– Although OAB and UI have overlapping symptoms, they require accurate diagnosis as the best treatment approach may differ depending on the specific type of incontinence.

Read More: Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

Prevalence and Impact on Quality of Life:

Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI) are prevalent health conditions that affect millions of individuals across the globe. Studies suggested that OAB affects approximately 30% of men and 40% (3) of women. These numbers can vary greatly due to differences in the definitions, methodologies, and populations that are studied.

Similarly, the prevalence of UI is also quite varied, with about 25% of women and 5% of men experiencing some form of urinary incontinence in their lifetime (5). The wide range of these estimates reflects the diverse factors such as age, gender, and definition used in studies.

Both OAB and UI can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. The constant need to urinate and the fear of urine leakage can lead to psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, social isolation, and decreased participation in physical and social activities. For many, disturbed sleep due to nocturia is a common problem, leading to daytime fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased productivity.

In addition to the psychological toll, OAB and UI can cause physical discomfort and are often associated with other health issues like urinary tract infections and skin problems. The economic burden of these conditions is significant, arising from the need for incontinence products, medications, potential surgical treatments, and indirect costs related to lost productivity.

However, it’s essential to remember that with effective management, individuals with OAB and UI can significantly improve their quality of life. This underscores the importance of seeking medical assistance and finding the right treatment approach for these conditions.

Read More: Lower back stretches to Relieve Lumbar Herniated Disc Pain

Common Symptoms of Overactive Bladder (OAB):

Overactive Bladder (OAB) is a condition characterized by several distinct symptoms. It’s important to remember that not everyone with OAB will experience all these symptoms, and the severity can vary greatly from person to person. Here are the key symptoms associated with OAB:

Urgency: This is the hallmark symptom of OAB. Urgency refers to a sudden and intense need to urinate. This feeling can be difficult to control and might occur even when the bladder isn’t full. It creates a fear of leaking urine before reaching a toilet.

Frequency: People with OAB often find that they need to urinate more often than usual. Frequency is generally defined as urinating more than eight times in a 24-hour period. While frequency varies among individuals, someone with OAB typically urinates more often (1).

Nocturia: This is the need to wake up multiple times during the night to urinate. While it’s not uncommon to wake up once a night to use the bathroom, people with OAB might find that they’re waking up two, three, or more times each night. It disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to daytime fatigue (2).

Common Types and Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence (UI)

There are various types of UI, each with its own set of symptoms:

Urinary Incontinence (UI) refers to the involuntary loss of urine. There are several types of UI, each with its own specific symptoms and causes:

1. **Stress Incontinence**: This is the most common form of incontinence in women, particularly those who have had children or are post-menopausal. It involves unexpected urine leakage during physical exertion such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, or exercising. The stress refers to physical pressure, not psychological stress.

2. **Urge Incontinence**: Also known as “overactive bladder,” this involves a sudden and intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. It may be caused by urinary tract infections, bladder irritants, neurological disorders, or damage caused by surgery or childbirth (7).

3. **Overflow Incontinence**: This type occurs when the bladder doesn’t empty properly, leading to overflow and leakage. Symptoms can include frequent or constant dribbling of urine, a feeling that the bladder is never completely empty, and difficulty starting to urinate or a weak urine stream. It’s often due to blockage or obstruction of the urinary tract, or nerve damage that interferes with signals between the brain and the bladder.

4. **Functional Incontinence**: This type of incontinence is caused by factors outside the urinary tract, such as physical or cognitive impairments that prevent a person from reaching the bathroom in time. This is more common in older adults with conditions like arthritis or dementia (8).

5. **Mixed Incontinence**: This is when someone experiences symptoms of more than one type of urinary incontinence. For example, they may have symptoms of both stress incontinence and urge incontinence. It’s particularly common in older women (6).

Experiencing any of these symptoms can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. However, with the right diagnosis and treatment, urinary incontinence can be managed effectively. If you’re experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence, it’s important to seek medical advice.

Read More: The Role of Surgery in Treating Lumbar Disc Herniation

Diagnostic Methods and Tools for OAB and UI:

Diagnosis of Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI) typically begins with a detailed medical history and physical examination. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, lifestyle, and overall health to help determine the cause of your urinary problems. They may also conduct several tests, including:

1. **Urinalysis**: This common, simple test can detect infections, glucose, blood, and other substances in the urine that might suggest a medical condition is causing the incontinence.

2. **Bladder Diary**: You may be asked to keep a bladder diary, where you record how much you drink, when you urinate, the amount of urine you produce, and whether you had any urge to urinate or experienced any leakage.

3. **Post-Void Residual Measurement**: This test measures the amount of urine left in your bladder after you urinate. It can be done using ultrasound or by inserting a catheter into your bladder after you urinate.

4. **Urodynamic Testing**: This involves a series of tests that measure the pressure and volume of the bladder and can help diagnose the specific type of incontinence (9). They can help identify issues with bladder filling and emptying. Urodynamic tests can include cystometry, pressure flow study, and electromyography.

5. **Pelvic Ultrasound**: This can provide images of the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract and is often used in combination with other tests.

6. **Cystoscopy**: This procedure involves inserting a thin tube with a lens into the bladder through the urethra, allowing your healthcare provider to examine the inside of the bladder for abnormalities.

7. **Pelvic Exam (for women)**: This exam allows your doctor to assess for any physical conditions affecting the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum which may contribute to urinary incontinence. This can help identify physical changes that contribute to incontinence, such as pelvic organ prolapse.

8. **Prostate Exam (for men)**: This can help identify an enlarged prostate, which can cause urination problems. An enlarged or inflamed prostate gland can cause urinary problems, and an examination can help identify any issues.

The tests your doctor recommends will depend on your symptoms and medical history. Some people might only need simple tests, while others might require more in-depth examination. The goal of these tests is to identify the cause of the symptoms and guide the treatment strategy.

Read More: Top 3 Symptoms Suggesting a Slipped or Bulging Disc or Herniated Disc

Management and Treatment of Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI)

Behavioral techniques

Treatment for OAB and UI is often multi-faceted and may include behavioral techniques, medication, medical devices, interventions, or surgery, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause. Here are some of the behavioral techniques commonly used to manage these conditions:

1. Bladder Training: This technique involves training the bladder to delay urination after getting the urge to go. You begin with small delays, like 5 minutes, and gradually work your way up to urinating every 2 to 4 hours. Studies have shown that bladder training can effectively reduce symptoms of OAB and UI (10).

2. Scheduled Toilet Trips: Also known as timed voiding, this involves visiting the toilet at regular, scheduled intervals—often every two to four hours, regardless of the urge to urinate. This can help manage UI (10).

3. Double Voiding: This technique involves urinating, then waiting a few minutes and trying again in order to ensure the bladder is fully emptied. Also known as timed voiding, this involves visiting the toilet at regular, scheduled intervals—often every two to four hours, regardless of the urge to urinate. This can help manage UI (10).

4. Dietary Changes: Certain foods and beverages can irritate the bladder, exacerbating symptoms of OAB and UI. These can include alcohol, caffeine, acidic foods, spicy foods, and carbonated drinks. By identifying and eliminating these bladder irritants from the diet, symptoms may be reduced (10).

5. Fluid and Caffeine Management: While it’s important to stay hydrated, drinking too much can worsen symptoms of OAB and UI. Similarly, caffeine is a diuretic and can increase urine production and stimulate the bladder, potentially contributing to symptoms. Reducing fluid intake (especially before bed) and moderating caffeine consumption can help manage these conditions (3).

Behavioral techniques are usually the first line of treatment and can be very effective. However, if symptoms persist or significantly impact quality of life, further treatment options such as medication, pelvic floor muscle exercises, neuromodulation, or surgery may be explored. It’s also important to note that management and treatment should be individualized, as what works for one person may not work for another. Always consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment options.

Medications for OAB and UI

Medications are often used in conjunction with behavioral techniques when it comes to treating Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI). Here are some of the most common ones:

1. Anticholinergics: These medications work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that can cause the muscles in the bladder to contract excessively, resulting in symptoms of OAB. By blocking this action, these medications can reduce urinary frequency, urgency, and in some cases, incontinence. Examples of anticholinergics include oxybutynin, tolterodine, solifenacin, and fesoterodine (11). While these medications can be effective, they do come with potential side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision.

2. Mirabegron (Beta-3 adrenergic agonists): Mirabegron works by relaxing the bladder muscle during the storage phase, thus increasing the amount of urine the bladder can hold. This in turn reduces the frequency of urination (15). It is usually prescribed when anticholinergics are ineffective or not well-tolerated.

3. Topical Estrogen (for postmenopausal women): Lower levels of estrogen after menopause can cause changes in the urinary tract that contribute to incontinence. Applying low-dose, topical estrogen in the form of a vaginal cream, ring, or patch can help rejuvenate tissues in the urethra and vaginal areas and reduce symptoms of incontinence (12). However, there are potential risks associated with estrogen therapy, especially in certain groups of women, so it’s important to discuss this treatment option thoroughly with a healthcare provider.

4. Botox (Botulinum toxin type A): Botox injections into the bladder muscle may benefit people with an overactive bladder. Botox can help relax the bladder, allowing it to store more urine and reducing instances of urinary incontinence. This treatment can be especially effective for OAB and UI that does not respond to other treatments (14).

These medications can significantly improve symptoms and enhance the quality of life for people with OAB and UI. However, they should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional as they can have side effects, and their effectiveness needs to be monitored. Moreover, it is important to discuss any other medications you are taking with your healthcare provider to avoid drug interactions.

Devices and products

Certain devices and products can provide relief and help manage symptoms of Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI). Here are a few:

1. Urethral Inserts: A urethral insert is a small, tampon-like disposable device that you insert into the urethra and remove when you want to urinate. This device can prevent leakage and is generally used to manage stress incontinence during certain activities, such as exercising. It’s a more temporary solution and not typically used for ongoing daily management. They can be used to prevent incontinence during certain activities, such as sports (12).

2. Pessary: In order to lessen leakage, a doctor or nurse inserts a stiff ring called a pessary into the vagina. This ring pushes against the vagina’s wall and the adjacent urethra. When exercising or engaging in other activities that put pressure on the bladder (stress incontinence), the pessary helps to hold the bladder up and prevent leaking. It is a suitable option for women who either do not want or cannot have surgery. It can help to reduce stress incontinence (12).

3. Absorbent Pads and Undergarments: A variety of absorbent pads and undergarments are available over the counter. Some are no bulkier than a pantyliner but can absorb significant amounts of urine. They can be a good option for anyone who has occasional incontinence but doesn’t want to wear protective undergarments (16).   For severe incontinence, absorbent undergarments and adult diapers may provide a more suitable solution.

Surgical and other medical procedures

For individuals with Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI) whose symptoms are not adequately controlled by conservative treatments, surgical or other medical procedures can be an option:

1. Nerve Stimulations: Tibial Nerve Stimulation (TNS): In this procedure, a thin needle is inserted near the ankle to stimulate the tibial nerve. Electrical impulses travel up to the nerves in the spine that control bladder function. This is typically done in 12 sessions, each lasting about 30 minutes. Research suggests TNS can be effective for managing OAB symptoms (22).

 Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS): This involves the implantation of a small device beneath the skin, typically in the buttock. The device sends electrical impulses to the sacral nerves, which play a role in bladder storage and emptying. This can improve both OAB and UI by helping control these bladder functions. Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of SNS for OAB and UI unresponsive to conservative treatments (23).

2. Bladder Injections: Ona botulinum toxin A (Botox) can be injected into the bladder muscle, helping it relax and increasing its storage capacity. This treatment can be especially effective for OAB and UI that does not respond to other treatments (14). While effective, the procedure often needs to be repeated as the benefits will gradually decrease over time.

3. Bladder Removal (Cystectomy): In extreme cases where other treatments have failed, removing the bladder can be considered. This is a major surgical procedure that is typically only considered for severe bladder conditions, such as bladder cancer, or severe cases of OAB or UI that haven’t responded to other treatments. After the bladder is removed, a new way to store and pass urine is created using a piece of intestine. More research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness and quality of life after this procedure (21).

4. Urethral Bulking Agents: This procedure is most often used in women with stress incontinence. A synthetic material or biological substance is injected into the tissue surrounding the urethra. This helps keep the urethra closed and reduce urine leakage. The procedure is minimally invasive but may need to be repeated over time as the body can slowly break down the bulking material. This treatment can be particularly useful for managing stress incontinence (19).

Physiotherapy management for OAB and UI

Physiotherapy, particularly pelvic floor physical therapy, can be an effective management strategy for Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI). This form of therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor, which support the bladder and regulate urination. Here are some key physiotherapy interventions:

1. **Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT)**: This is the most common form of physical therapy for OAB and UI. It involves exercises (commonly known as Kegel exercises) that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, helping you to gain better control over your bladder (18). A physical therapist can guide you through these exercises, ensuring that you’re performing them correctly for maximum benefit.

2. **Biofeedback**: Biofeedback is a technique that helps you become more aware of your body’s functions. For OAB and UI, biofeedback involves using sensors and visual or auditory feedback to better understand your pelvic floor muscles’ function and improve your control over them (18).

3. **Electrical Stimulation**: Sometimes, electrical stimulation is used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This involves using a small device that sends mild electric signals to the muscles, helping them to contract and relax. This therapy may improve symptoms of stress and urge incontinence (17).

4. **Vaginal Cones (for women)**: These are small, weighted devices that can be used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. You place a cone inside your vagina and try to hold it in place using your muscles. Studies show they can be effective for treating stress incontinence (20).

5. **Functional Retraining**: This includes strategies to help manage episodes of urgency, such as distraction techniques, changes in posture, and relaxation techniques such as delaying voiding, managing fluid intake, and scheduled toilet trips (10).

6. **Lifestyle Advice**: This can include advice on weight loss, exercise, and avoiding bladder irritants in the diet. These interventions have been shown to improve symptoms of OAB and UI (10).

These therapies may be used individually or in combination, depending on the individual’s specific needs. It’s important to note that the benefits of physiotherapy for OAB and UI often take time to become apparent, so patience and consistency are key. As always, any new treatment regimen should be discussed and monitored by a healthcare provider.


In conclusion, while Overactive Bladder (OAB) and Urinary Incontinence (UI) can present significant challenges, it is entirely possible to manage these conditions effectively and significantly improve quality of life. These conditions are very common and should not cause embarrassment or prevent individuals from seeking help.

A broad range of treatment options exists, encompassing behavioral techniques, medications, devices, and even surgical procedures. Importantly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and the best management strategy often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual’s specific symptoms, lifestyle, and overall health.

Remember, it’s crucial to seek medical advice if you’re experiencing symptoms of OAB or UI. Open communication with healthcare providers can lead to better understanding of the condition, more effective management strategies, and ultimately, improved outcomes.

Moreover, hope for even more effective treatments in the future is high. Continued research and technological advancements in this field are likely to yield new insights and innovative management strategies for OAB and UI. Patient advocacy and increasing awareness of these conditions are crucial to driving this research forward.

In sum, living with OAB and/or UI can be manageable with the right support and treatment plan. Don’t hesitate to seek help and explore all the options available to you. You are not alone in this journey, and with the ongoing research in this field, the future looks promising.


  1. What exactly is Overactive Bladder (OAB)?

    Overactive Bladder (OAB) is a condition where there is a frequent feeling of needing to urinate, which can occur during the day or night. Some people with OAB also experience sudden urges to urinate and may not always make it to the bathroom in time, resulting in urinary incontinence.

  2. What is the difference between OAB and Urinary Incontinence (UI)?

    While OAB is a condition characterized by an urgent and frequent need to urinate, Urinary Incontinence (UI) is a symptom that involves the involuntary leakage of urine. UI can be a symptom of OAB, but it can also be caused by other conditions, such as stress incontinence where leakage occurs when pressure is exerted on the bladder.

  3. How common are OAB and UI?

    Both OAB and UI are quite common. OAB affects an estimated 15-33% of men and women, while UI affects about 25% of young women, up to 57% of middle-aged and postmenopausal women, and 11-34% of men.

  4. What impact can OAB and UI have on quality of life?

    OAB and UI can significantly impact quality of life, affecting physical activity, sleep, and emotional well-being. These conditions can cause embarrassment, isolation, and a decrease in social activities. They may also result in hygiene issues and increased healthcare costs due to treatments and management strategies.

  5. What are the common symptoms of OAB?

    The common symptoms of OAB include a sudden urge to urinate that’s hard to control, frequent urination, and nocturia, which is the need to get up two or more times during the night to urinate. Some people with OAB may also experience urge incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine immediately following an urgent need to urinate.

  6. What are the different types and symptoms of UI?

    There are several types of UI, including stress incontinence (leakage when pressure is exerted on the bladder, such as during exercise, coughing, or laughing), urge incontinence (leakage following a sudden urge to urinate), overflow incontinence (constant or intermittent dribbling of urine due to an inability to empty the bladder completely), and functional incontinence (where physical or mental impairments prevent getting to the bathroom in time).

  7. How are OAB and UI diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of OAB and UI typically involves a thorough medical history and physical examination, urinalysis, bladder diary, and potentially further diagnostic tests like urodynamic testing, post-void residual measurement, or pelvic ultrasound. In some cases, a cystoscopy, pelvic exam (for women), or prostate exam (for men) may also be necessary.

  8. What behavioral techniques can help manage OAB and UI?

    Behavioral techniques such as bladder training, scheduled toilet trips, double voiding, dietary changes, and fluid and caffeine management can all help manage symptoms of OAB and UI.

  9. What medications are commonly used for treating OAB and UI?

    Medications such as anticholinergics and beta-3 adrenergic agonists are commonly used for treating OAB and UI. For postmenopausal women, topical estrogen may be recommended. In some cases, Botox injections may be used.

  10. What devices and products can help manage OAB and UI?

    There are several devices and products available to help manage OAB and UI, including urethral inserts, pessaries, and absorbent pads and undergarments.

  11. What are some of the surgical and other medical procedures used for OAB and UI treatment?

    Depending on the severity of the condition, and if conservative measures are ineffective, surgical or other medical procedures like nerve stimulations (Tibial or Sacral), bladder injections, bladder removal, or urethral bulking agents may be considered.

  12. Can physiotherapy help manage OAB and UI? If so, how?

    Yes, physiotherapy, particularly pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT), can be very beneficial in managing OAB and UI. This therapy strengthens the muscles that control urination, thereby helping to prevent urinary leakage. Other physiotherapy techniques include biofeedback, electrical stimulation, functional retraining, and lifestyle advice.

  13. What strategies can help cope with the emotional and psychological impacts of living with OAB and/or UI?

    It’s important to remember that OAB and UI are medical conditions that can be managed effectively. Recognize and address any feelings of stress, embarrassment, or anxiety. Seek help from mental health professionals if needed, and consider joining support groups. Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation exercises like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can also help manage stress levels.


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