Recent research estimates that more than 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of interstitial cystitis (IC), a chronic bladder condition. For most of them, staying close to a bathroom is a necessity. On average, a healthy adult urinates no more than seven times a day and seldom needs to get up at night to use the bathroom. Someone with a severe case of IC, on the other hand, may urinate as frequently as 60 times in 24 hours, including multiple nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Like millions of others, Dunn suffers from overactive bladder, or OAB, in which the bladder wall muscle inappropriately contracts, causing the urge to urinate. The urge can be so strong and sudden that there is not enough time to get to a bathroom.
"I spent my life soaking wet," Dunn, now 60, tells WebMD. When her children were younger, they would all be out and about, and the outing would often be interrupted by a quick trip home after Dunn had an accident.
Then there was the elevator incident, one of life's most embarrassing moments. Dunn was standing on an elevator with a stranger when the urge hit. Crossing her legs didn't prevent the puddle on the floor.
The burning question in her life, she says, became: "How fast can I get to the bathroom?"
Dunn sought medical attention for her overactive bladder years ago, but nothing seemed to help, until she entered a study in April 2006 at the University of Pittsburgh. It looked at whether injections of botulinum toxin, the same substance that has been smoothing facial wrinkles for years, could calm down her active bladder.
This OAB treatment took her from “soaked to dry," she says happily. She has to repeat the treatment, but she says it's worth it.
Fortunately, as the treatment options for overactive bladder have expanded, many others with OAB can tell the same wet-to-dry story.
Overactive Bladder: The Facts
With age, you're more at risk for OAB. Women are more likely to be affected by the condition earlier in life than are men. Most men with OAB are age 65 and above, but the condition begins to increase among women when they are in their mid-40s.
Besides the sudden, sometimes uncontrollable urge to urinate, overactive bladder symptoms include leakage. Urination is frequent, typically 13 or more times in 24 hours. Awakening two or three times during the night to urinate isn't unusual.
About two-thirds of those with OAB have "dry" OAB, in which they feel bladder contractions and have a sudden urge to urinate but do get to the bathroom on time. Wet OAB is embarrassingly self-explanatory.
In many instances, doctors can't pinpoint the causes of overactive bladder, although neurological problems (such as strokes) and unhealthy lifestyle habits (such as excess caffeine intake) can contribute. The diagnosis is one of exclusion, after conditions such as severe urinary tract infections or bladder cancer have been ruled out.
OAB: The Effects on Quality of Life
Overactive bladder can play havoc with how you feel about yourself, not to mention your daily work schedule and social life.