Tips for Treating Overactive Bladder Syndrome

If you have to pee all the time, it’s pretty common to attribute the constant interruptions to the fact that you have a small bladder. But is that really a thing? We did a little research and found out bladders *do* range in size from 16 to 24 ounces, but even if your bladder is on the smaller side, it’s not an explanation for urinary urgency or frequency.

Like most bladder and pelvic health conditions, there’s no single explanation for frequent bathroom trips, but if you’re regularly relying on the “small bladder” line, you’re probably experiencing overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), a form of urge incontinence. We chatted with Lindsey Vestal, pelvic health expert and owner of The Functional Pelvis, about common symptoms and treatments.

OAB symptoms

OAB is often dismissed because of the widespread idea that some bladders just hold less than others, but when the urge to pee is starting to disrupt your daily life it’s time to evaluate what’s really going on. Lindsey says a clear diagnosis isn’t too hard to come by, because the symptoms of OAB are easily identifiable:

  • Recurring, emergency urges to pee
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, triggered by specific, everyday actions (i.e. opening the door to leave your apartment, or right before a weekly work meeting)
  • Waking up regularly in the middle of the night to pee
  • Leaking on your way to the bathroom

Causes of overactive bladder syndrome

Lindsey says you should typically pee six to eight times a day, three to four hours apart. Anything more than that, and it’s likely the cause of your trips is either muscular (meaning there’s an imbalance or weakness in your pelvic floor muscles) or behavioral (meaning you’ve accidentally trained your bladder to signal your brain to pee prematurely).

Age and body weight can slightly up your chances of having OAB, but Lindsey says behavioral and hereditary causes are really common, too. That doesn’t mean an overactive (or small) bladder is in your gene pool, but if you’re someone whose parents always told you to pee before a long car ride, or you’ve made it a habit to run to the restroom when you arrive at your office in the morning, it’s likely your body has been conditioned to feel the urge every time you’re on your way out the door or stepping off the elevator.

Ideally, your brain *should* be signaling that your bladder needs to be emptied when it starts to reach the halfway point, usually around eight ounces of liquid. But, if you have OAB, frequent bathroom breaks or learned familial behaviors are probably triggering your brain to send signals when it isn’t really necessary. The good news is that there are a few simple, actionable ways to combat OAB symptoms:

Bladder training

Because OAB is rooted in associations your brain has made with specific actions or moments in your day, a big part of treatment is retraining your mind to ignore signals that your bladder is full when it really isn’t. You can start bladder training with small steps, like slightly increasing the time between your bathroom trips. So, if you’re someone who goes to the bathroom every hour, start by upping the time to every hour and fifteen minutes.

Pelvic floor exercises

Strengthening and retraining your pelvic floor muscles via properly executed Kegel exercises is an important step in rebuilding bladder endurance that should never be underestimated. If your urges are being amplified by weak pelvic floor muscles, getting in tune with the function of your pelvic floor can help restore your control over when and where you need to pee. 

Drink more

Contrary to what most people assume, drinking less water won’t stop leaks or urge incontinence. In fact, dehydration can make your pee more acidic, making it irritating for your bladder to hold (which, you guessed it, means your bladder starts spasming and sending you signals to let the liquid out earlier than necessary).

Drink better

Avoid drinking bladder irritants like alcohol, caffeine, or carbonated beverages. They can speed up the process of sending signals to your brain that it’s time to empty out, even if you’re not holding much liquid yet.

Once you recognize the symptoms of OAB you can start taking back control of your bathroom breaks.

Do you experience urge incontinence? How do you handle symptoms? Share your tips in the comments.

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