Overactive bladder is a physical issue, but it has an impact on the rest of your life as well. Few people want to sit around and chat about their need to rush to the bathroom, though.
"A woman who's growing older sees men on television talking about erectile dysfunction, but not women sharing their stories about continence," says Linda Brubaker, MD. She's the director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Loyola University Health System.
Because of the relative silence on the subject, it might seem you're alone -- but you aren't. And there is support for you.
Social and Relationship Challenges
"Especially as overactive bladder and other continence problems become more severe, they can be very distressing, embarrassing, and ultimately isolating," says Ross Rames, MD. He's an associate professor of urology at the Medical University of South Carolina.
People with OAB often don't want to be out in public because they're afraid they'll have to keep rushing to the bathroom. When you stay home, though, you miss out on things you enjoy doing, and being with friends and family. Instead of relieving your stress, you're building up more worry and frustration.
Limiting your activities can affect your physical health, too. "Women may stop going for walks because they're afraid to be that far from the bathroom," Brubaker says. "Or they may stop playing sports -- even 'grandma soccer' with the kids -- because they're afraid of leakage accidents. So their lives become more [inactive]." And that can lead to other health problems.
OAB can also make it tough to do your job. "Imagine if you're a schoolteacher and you have to stand up in front of a classroom of 4th-graders for an hour or more without a break," Rames says. What if you're an executive who has to make a long presentation, or a surgeon who can't just rush out to the bathroom in the middle of an operation? That's why it's so important to work with your doctor to control those sudden, strong urges to go.
An overactive bladder can get in the way of intimate relationships, too, says Rames. You might leak during orgasm, which can make both sex and masturbation a lot less fun. If worries about bladder problems get in the way of your sex life, don't ignore them. Talk to your partner and your doctor.
Sleep Trouble and Depression
Interrupted sleep from getting up to go can leave you feeling groggy, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Over time, this lack of sleep can lead to depression. In a series of online interviews, women who made two or more nighttime bathroom trips were more likely to say they were depressed than women who said they have OAB without nocturia, or the need to urinate several times a night.
"Even if you don't have a bladder problem, it's normal to get up at least once a night to empty a full bladder. If all's going well, you wake up, go to the bathroom, go back to bed, and fall back to sleep. But the more you have to wake up, the more your sleep patterns get disturbed," Brubaker says. "And a number of people report that they begin to leak on the way to the bathroom at night, which is even more stressful and can put you at risk for falls."
A good night's sleep can make a big difference in the day that follows. Getting control of your bladder can improve your mood and how you feel in general.
You may have to try a few things until you find a treatment that helps your OAB symptoms. Try not to get frustrated, and keep working with your doctor. Even if your OAB can't be cured, it's a condition you can manage, like high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma.
"There are lots of options," Brubaker says. "You shouldn't have to be planning your life around your bladder. Your bladder should be keeping up with you."