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Living with overactive bladder -- also called OAB -- can be a challenge, with the urge to urinate occurring often and suddenly. It can be doubly frustrating when you don’t know what causes overactive bladder. You’re not alone: As many as one in six adults over age 40 may have symptoms of OAB.

When and Why Overactive Bladder Happens

Overactive bladder happens when the muscles of the bladder involuntarily contract more frequently and at inappropriate times.

Your mind reads those contractions as an urgent need to urinate. If you have "dry" OAB, you’ll make it to the bathroom on time but it can cause a lot of worry and anxiety. If you have the "wet" form of overactive bladder, you may not always make it without leaking urine (urge incontinence).

Most of the time, doctors don’t know what causes this mix up between your bladder and your brain with OAB.

What Else Could It Be?

There are also other reasons people need to go to the bathroom more often than usual or feel like they have to go. They could be:

  • Side effects from medications, especially diuretics (water pills) and drugs with caffeine
  • Urinary tract infection or other causes of bladder irritation
  • Pregnancy or recent delivery
  • Neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease
  • Tumors or other abnormalities in the bladder such as bladder cancer
  • Inflammation of the prostate or prostate cancer in men
  • Nerve damage caused by surgery, injury, or disease (such as diabetes)

The Link Between Overactive Bladder and Other Health Problems

You should know that if you have overactive bladder and urinary incontinence, you may also be more likely to have some other health issues. These include:

  • Urinary tract and skin infections
  • Being at risk for falls with fractures, if you're a senior citizen

If you wake up from sleep two or more times a night having to go to the bathroom, this is called nocturia. Besides poor sleep, nocturia has been linked to fatigue, low energy, a harder time performing day-to-day activities, and a reduced quality of life. 

Depression has also been linked to OAB, especially among people with urge incontinence without a known cause.

It is important to talk to your health care provider about all symptoms you may be having -- even if you think they seem unrelated to your condition. That can help him or her keep an eye out for other issues.