Are You Coping with Bladder Symptoms?

Imagine having to plan every moment of your day around your bladder by mapping out the closest restroom, making your wardrobe decisions based on colors most likely to hide bladder leakage, avoiding liquids to help control your bladder frequency or even worse, staying home to avoid accidents. Bladder problems can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, as well as your emotional and physical health.2

As a practicing female pelvic medicine specialist and urologist, I see patients who come to me after many months, or often years, of having to think about these very aspects of their lives. They are scheduling their bathroom time, mapping restrooms and packing extra clothes before they leave home. Bladder issues are a sensitive topic. Women are often reluctant to talk about these symptoms due to fear of embarrassment or shame.3 In addition, there are so many things to review during your annual visit to your health care provider, that often bladder health is not discussed. As a result, many women cope with bladder symptoms for a long time before getting help.2

There are many types of bladder health conditions, but one of the more common ones I see in my own practice is overactive bladder, or OAB. OAB is a medical condition characterized by urinary urgency (a sudden, strong urge to urinate) and urinary frequency (having to pee too often).4 OAB can also be associated with accidents or leakage that occur before you reach the toilet.4 Treatments are available for patients diagnosed with overactive bladder. They range from behavioral changes, pelvic floor exercises, prescription medicines and even medical procedures.5 Seeking help, as well as understanding the best treatment options for you based on a detailed evaluation by a qualified medical practitioner, is an important first step in addressing the impact that living with bladder symptoms can have on your day to day life.

Ekene Enemchukwu, M.D., M.P.H. is a practicing female pelvic medicine specialist and urologic surgeon at the Stanford University Medical Center with a medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, urology training from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and fellowship training from New York University Langone Medical Center.

Read on to learn more about overactive bladder, and how to approach a conversation with your doctor.

What is Overactive Bladder?

When you have OAB, the muscles of your bladder start to contract involuntarily even when the volume of urine in your bladder is low.4 This involuntary contraction can cause symptoms of OAB, such as urgency, frequency and leakage.

  • Urgency is when you feel a strong need to urinate that is difficult to control4
  • Frequency means that you need to urinate too often (usually 8 or more times a day)4
  • Leakage, or incontinence, is accidentally urinating after a sudden, uncontrollable urge4

How Can Overactive Bladder Impact Your Life?

According to an online survey of US women with OAB symptoms…2

  • 39% of women reported that OAB interfered with daily activities, and 12% said their symptoms caused them to stay at home2
  • 38% of women reported decreased physical activities because of OAB, and 34% attributed weight gain because of their inability to exercise2
  • Respondents with OAB symptoms reported an overall decrease in work productivity, and unemployment was higher for those with OAB than those without2
  • Women with OAB were also significantly more likely than those without OAB to report:
    • disturbed sleep2
    • decreased self‐esteem2
    • decreased sexuality2

Talking to Your Doctor: Conversation‐Starter Checklist

If these symptoms sound familiar, keep these tips in mind for a more productive conversation with your doctor.

  • Come prepared — Before your visit, write down a list of the symptoms you are experiencing and how they are affecting your daily activities. The Urology Care Foundation offers a downloadable Bladder Diary that can be helpful for tracking your symptoms, which are often difficult to remember when face‐to‐face with your doctor.
  • Be confident — This can be a difficult topic to address, but your doctor is there to help. Being honest about your symptoms can help your doctor create a plan that’s right for you. The Urology Care Foundation’s OAB Patient Guide can help you learn more about OAB symptoms and potential treatments.
  • Ask questions — The Urology Care Foundation’s guide, Overactive Bladder: Talking with Your Healthcare Provider can give you an idea of helpful questions. If you don’t understand or agree with something your doctor says, ask a question:
    • Is what I’m experiencing normal?
    • Can the symptoms be managed?
    • What are my options?
  • Keep an open mind — Be receptive to your doctor’s recommendations and consider the pros and cons for the options offered.
  • Get a second opinion — If you feel like you’re not being heard, or the problem is not being addressed, get a second opinion. You should feel comfortable with your doctor, as a good relationship is key to helping you address and manage your symptoms.