Even though bladder problems affect some 33 million adults in the U.S., it can be an embarrassing subject to discuss, even with your doctor. That’s why overactive bladder, also known as OAB or urge incontinence, is often called the "hidden condition."
You might believe, as many people do, that overactive bladder is just an unpleasant but inescapable part of getting older. Actually it isn’t -- and there is something you can do. Seeing your doctor and having tests for overactive bladder can help you get treatment, get back into your old routine, and feel more like yourself again.
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.
To get a diagnosis of overactive bladder, your doctor starts with a complete health history to learn about other urinary conditions you’ve had in the past, and when the problem started. Your doctor will examine you, ask questions, and perform tests.
Questions your doctor may ask about your OAB include:
How often do you urinate?
How often do you leak urine, and how severely?
Do you feel any pain or discomfort while urinating?
For how long has the urge or urinary incontinence been occurring?
What medications are you taking?
Have you had any recent surgery or illnesses?
Keeping an OAB diary at home can help you answer these questions and help with an overactive bladder diagnosis. Each day, write down how much you drink, when you urinate, how much you urinate each time, and whether you ever feel an urgent need to go.
Your doctor will then examine your abdomen, pelvis, genitals, and rectum. You might also have a neurological exam to look for problems in your nervous system that could affect your ability to urinate.
What Are the Tests for Overactive Bladder?
There are a number of tests for overactive bladder, depending on your health history and symptoms. For these tests, you’ll likely see a urologist (a doctor who is trained to treat urinary disorders). If you’re a woman, you can also visit a urogynecologist.
Tests for overactive bladder include:
Urinalysis. Taking a urine sample allows your doctor to check for conditions that can cause overactive bladder. A urinalysis looks for the presence of these substances in the urine:
Bacteria or white blood cells, which could indicate a urinary tract infection or inflammation
Blood or protein, which could be a sign of a kidney problem
Glucose, which could signal diabetes
Postvoid residual volume. This test checks to see whether the bladder empties fully by passing a flexible tube called a catheter through your urethra and into your bladder after you’ve urinated. The catheter drains the urine that remains in your bladder and measures it. Another way to test postvoid residual urine is with an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to look at how much urine is left in your bladder after you go.