An overactive bladder (OAB) is characterised by the urgent and frequent need to urinate, which can be accompanied by nocturia (the need to urinate several times during the night) and urge incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine following an urgent need to urinate).

This condition results from overactivity of the bladder muscles, leading to a sudden contraction that signals the need to urinate even when the bladder is not full. Although OAB can affect individuals of any age, it is more prevalent in women and the elderly.

Common symptoms of an overactive bladder

Symptoms of an overactive bladder can significantly disrupt daily activities and include:

Severe symptoms or complications

Without appropriate management, OAB can lead to various complications, including:

What causes an overactive bladder?

An overactive bladder can be linked to multiple factors:

How overactive bladders are diagnosed

The diagnostic process for OAB may involve:

Treatments for an overactive bladder

Treatment strategies for an overactive bladder include include:

Behavioural Techniques

Fluid management, bladder training, and scheduled toilet trips to improve bladder control.

Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises

Strengthening the muscles that help stop urine flow, which can improve symptoms significantly.


Antimuscarinics (e.g., oxybutynin) or beta-3 agonists (e.g., mirabegron) relax the bladder and increase storage capacity.

Nerve Stimulation

Techniques like posterior tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) or sacral neuromodulation influence the nerve impulses that control bladder function.

Surgical Options

Considered when other treatments have failed, including botulinum toxin injections (botox) into the bladder & augmentation cystoplasty, which increases bladder capacity.

Can you prevent an overactive bladder?

Preventive measures can mitigate the risk of developing OAB:

Frequently asked questions

Is an overactive bladder just a normal part of ageing?

While the prevalence of overactive bladder increases with age, it should not be considered a normal or inevitable part of the ageing process.

The changes in bladder function and the increased incidence of OAB in older adults can often be attributed to underlying health conditions, such as neurological diseases or prostate enlargement in men, or reduced oestrogen levels in women post-menopause.

Effective treatments are available to manage the symptoms, and lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve quality of life. It is important for seniors to discuss these symptoms with their healthcare provider rather than dismissing them as merely age-related.

Can exercises really help with OAB?

Yes, pelvic floor exercises, known as Kegel exercises, can be highly effective in managing symptoms of overactive bladder. These exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and urethra. Strengthening these muscles helps improve bladder control and reduce both the frequency and urgency of urination, as well as urge incontinence.

It is recommended to perform these exercises regularly—ideally several times a day—and they may need to be continued for at least three to six months to see significant improvements.

Are there any dietary changes that can help manage OAB?

Adjusting your diet can help manage and alleviate symptoms of an overactive bladder. It’s advisable to limit foods and beverages that can irritate the bladder, such as caffeine (found in coffee, tea, and chocolate), alcohol, acidic fruits (like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons), and spicy foods. Additionally, artificial sweeteners and high-sugar foods may exacerbate symptoms for some people.

Increasing your intake of fibre can reduce the risk of constipation, which can put pressure on the bladder and exacerbate OAB symptoms. Drinking water is important, but it should be consumed in moderate amounts and spread evenly throughout the day to avoid overwhelming the bladder.

How long does it typically take to see improvement in symptoms with treatment?

The timeline for improvement can vary widely depending on the type of treatment. 

Consistency and adherence to the prescribed therapy are crucial, and patients should attend regular follow-ups to adjust treatment plans as needed.

Can overactive bladder symptoms worsen over time?

If left untreated, the symptoms of an overactive bladder may worsen over time. This progression can lead to increased frequency and urgency, greater distress, and more frequent episodes of urge incontinence.

Early diagnosis and appropriate management are key to preventing symptom escalation and improving the long-term outlook. Regular medical evaluations can help to adapt treatment strategies to changing symptoms or underlying conditions, ensuring optimal management.