You may not be able to cure overactive bladder, but with the right tools and know-how, you can control it. Many people who have OAB don't realize there are things they can, and should, do differently.
Don't: Assume there's nothing you can do.
The first and often biggest mistake a person with OAB makes is thinking they can't do anything about it, according to Paul Shin, MD. He is an assistant professor of urology at George Washington University Hospital.
"People figure it's just a natural part of aging, or something they need to tough out as a condition one just lives with post-pregnancy or post-hysterectomy," Shin says. "Then they just learn to deal with it."
You might stay inside and close to bathrooms and wear pads in case of leakage. You'll adapt to the lack of sleep that results from getting up to go to the bathroom during the night. But this won't really improve your quality of life, and it can lead to anxiety and depression.
If your OAB is caused by something specific, such as an enlarged prostate in men or a prolapsed bladder in women, or a urinary tract infection, your doctor can treat the condition. If not, your doctor can give you exercises, suggest lifestyle changes, and prescribe drugs to help you find relief.
Don't: Avoid talking to your doctor.
People with OAB also hide their urinary symptoms from their doctor. Fewer than half of people with OAB ever mention it to a doctor, physician assistant, or other health care professional. Sadly, not only do these folks miss out on months and sometimes years of a better life, but they may also be allowing their OAB to get worse by not treating it, says Shin.
"Tell your doctor you're having a problem," says Patricia Goode, MD, medical director of the Continence Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Primary care doctors -- faced with packing too much into a short check-up -- might not ask a person about their bathroom habits. But if you're having symptoms and your doctor doesn't bring it up, then you need to.
Embarrassment often holds a person back from talking about it, says Goode, but so does fear. Some people think that if they do tell their doctor, he or she will recommend surgery. That is simply not the case. Your doctor will try treating underlying causes, suggest behavior changes along with exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor, and discuss prescription drug options and treatments that stimulate nerves first. Surgery is a last resort.
Don't: Skip your exercises or bladder diary.
Doctors often suggest keeping a written diary, either to help identify triggers for your OAB or to help retrain your bladder. People tend to start keeping track well. Then, they'll forget to write things down. Or, like with pelvic-strengthening exercises, they decide it's too much work and stop altogether.
Perhaps what the doctor said made sense at the office, but now you're not sure what they told you to do. How long are you supposed to squeeze when you're doing your Kegels? Were you supposed to go or not go when you felt the urge? And what are you supposed to be writing down?
For you to get a handle on your OAB, you'll need to follow your doctor's instructions and stick with it. If you're confused, call your doctor. If you need help setting up your diary, the National Association for Continence has blank bladder diaries in the "Educational Brochures" section on their web site.
Don't: Drink less water.
Cutting way back on how much water you drink is another common mistake. While fewer drinks with caffeine and alcohol will help OAB symptoms, drinking less water can have the opposite effect.
Yes, your body will make less urine, but that urine will be very concentrated, which can irritate your bladder. And that, in turn, will make you want to go more.
You'll know you're drinking enough water when your urine is light yellow or almost colorless.