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What is an overactive bladder (OAB)?

The overactive bladder (OAB) or overactive bladder syndrome is a name given to a combination of urinary symptoms the key feature of which is urgency - a sudden, strong need to pass urine.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is defined as:

  • Urinary urgency -the sudden need to pass urine
  • Usually accompanied by frequency –an increased number of urinations per day and
  • Nocturia – an increased need to urinate at night causing waking from sleep
  • With or without urge incontinence – the leakage of urine on the way to the toilet associated with a need to pass urine
  • In the absence of urinary tract infection or other obvious pathology (e.g. diseases such as bladder stones or cancers)

Ironically the three essential overactive bladder symptoms have been shortened to the acronym “FUN” – frequency, urgency and nocturia.

As anyone who has ever suffered from OAB knows though, the condition is anything but fun…

The “I’ve got to go NOW” feeling makes people fearful that they will leak urine if they can’t get to the toilet straight away. The urgency may also cause them to leak urine before getting to the toilet.

What are some of the effects of an Overactive Bladder (OAB)?

Although it is not life threatening, OAB can have an enormous impact on a person’s quality of life. Life with OAB can literally revolve around the toilet- needing to go what seems like “all the time” and needing to know the location of toilet facilities at all times with a constant fear of urinary leakage. Freedom is lost and life becomes increasingly more restricted as people avoid going out, work, social activities, travel and any place where easy and rapid access to toilet facilities is unavailable. Waking to urinate frequently at night also makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep and can result in a feeling of chronic tiredness.

How common is OAB?

Unfortunately OAB is very common. Studies of American and European populations estimate that up to 17% of adult men and women suffer from OAB and the findings are similar in Australia. The rates of OAB also increase with ageing.

It is estimated that of all the people suffering from OAB, about 1/3 have “OAB wet” (i.e. they experience urgency AND urge incontinence with leakage on the way to the toilet). The other 2/3 of OAB sufferers have “OAB dry” (i.e. frequency and urgency without leakage).

OAB is also under diagnosed and under treated because many people incorrectly assume that it is an inevitable part of ageing and that nothing can be done to help the problem.

Who gets OAB?

Anyone can experience OAB. OAB can happen at any age. Although most people with the symptoms of OAB are over the age of 40, it can also affect children and younger adults.

Common myths about OAB

Common myths about OAB include believing that:

  • Nothing can be done to help
  • It is a natural part of ageing
  • It can only be corrected by surgery
  • It is just part of being a woman
  • It is just part of being a man with an enlarged prostate

If OAB is affecting day-to-day life and decisions about how life is lived, it is time to take action. Start by talking to the family doctor and discuss potential treatment options. Learn more about treatment options.