More than 37 million adults in the United States–one in six–suffer from overactive bladder. Overactive bladder is defined as urge incontinence (leaking) and urgency-frequency (frequent urges to urinate). Overactive bladder and urinary retention (the inability to completely empty the bladder) are not a normal part of the aging process, often cause embarrassment and can affect the quality of daily living dramatically.1-2
The social costs of bladder control problems also are high, because even mild symptoms affect social, sexual, interpersonal and professional function.3 People with bladder control problems often struggle with whether or not to perform simple everyday activities, such as working, shopping, traveling in a car or seeing a movie, for fear of embarrassing wetting episodes or not being near a restroom.
For those Americans who have experienced a loss of bladder control, only one in eight has been diagnosed. On average, women wait 6.5 years to obtain a diagnosis for a bladder control problem.
Bladder incontinence is the uncontrolled leakage of urine. There are three main types of bladder incontinence, although some incontinence patients may experience more than one type:
Stress incontinence—the unintentional loss of urine due to increased pressure in the abdomen. Stress incontinence occurs when abdominal pressure rises due to activities like coughing, sneezing or exercising.
Urge incontinence—strong and uncontrollable urges to urinate, often caused by contractions or spasms of the bladder that lead to unintentional voiding of urine.
Overflow incontinence—the inability to completely empty the bladder, leading to urinary retention that unintentionally leaks.
Causes and Contributing Factors
In some people, bladder control problems are caused by miscommunication between nerves. The sacral nerves, which control the bladder, may not be communicating properly with the brain so that the nerves tell the bladder to release urine at the wrong time.
Pregnancy and childbirth, obesity, weak pelvic muscles, diabetes, bladder cancer or stones and neurological disorders can contribute to overactive bladder. Certain medications or inactivity also can contribute to the risk.
1 Stewart WF, et al. Prevalence and burden of overactive bladder in the United States. World J Urol. 2003:20:327-336.
2 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011). World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, CD-ROM Edition.
3 Lenderking WR, Nackley JF, Anderson RB, Testa MA. A review of the quality-of-life aspects of urinary urge incontinence; importance of patients’ perspective and explanatory lifestyle. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1998;46(6)683-692.