Your Guide to Overactive Bladder and Urinary Incontinence
Overactive Bladder vs. Urinary Incontinence: What's the Difference?
Although overactive bladder and urinary incontinence are both issues that revolve around bladder function — they are not the same. Overactive bladder involves the issue of urinary urge, while urinary incontinence is described as leakage of urine from the bladder. Although these conditions are different, their symptoms can overlap. Continue reading to learn all about overactive bladder vs. urinary incontinence, how they differ, and treatment options that are available. 

What is an Overactive Bladder?  

Overactive bladder, also known as OAB, is a urinary condition that causes an overwhelming or sudden urge to urinate. Typically, as the bladder fills it sends a signal through the nerves to the brain to let you know that you have to use the bathroom. As a result, your pelvic floor muscles relax and allow you to urinate. However, when a patient has an overactive bladder, the nerves alert that you need to urinate, but the ability to prevent leakage is compromised, and the bladder muscle (detrusor) spasms and releases urine involuntarily. 

The symptoms of OAB can be extremely frustrating and hard to manage — affecting both men and women. In fact, according to the Urology Care Foundation, as many as 30% of men and 40% of women in the United States live with symptoms of OAB.

Causes of OAB

OAB happens when the detrusor begins to act involuntarily. While both men and women can be diagnosed with this condition, OAB most commonly occurs in women. This is due to changes in estrogen and weakened pelvic floor muscles after experiencing menopause, pregnancy, or menstruation. Other causes of OAB include:

  • Aging
  • Weight gain
  • Poor nutrition 
  • Trauma to the pelvis or abdomen
  • Neurological diseases that affect nerve signals

Symptoms of OAB

Experiencing the occasional urge to urinate does not automatically mean you’re dealing with OAB. Instead, this condition is determined by the frequency and urgency of your urination patterns. Overactive bladder represents a collection of symptoms that can include: 

  • Frequently needing to use the bathroom, or frequent sudden urges to urinate.
  • Inability to control urine.
  • Waking up two or more times during the night to urinate.
  • Urinating eight or more times a day.

Treatments for OAB

Some of the recommended treatments for overactive bladder we offer here at Urology Specialists of the Carolinas are: 

  • Anticholinergic Medications: These medications block the chemical acetylcholine, which is responsible for telling your bladder to contract and release urine.
  • Beta-3 Adrenergic Medications: These are used to relax the bladder, and allow it to hold more urine.
  • Botox Treatment: Botox that is injected directly into the bladder tissue, helping to control the bladder. 
  • Weight Loss: Weight loss may be recommended to relieve the pressure from your bladder.
  • Adjusting Fluid Consumption: Scheduling your drinks throughout the day could help relieve symptoms of OAB.

Learn more: The 5 Best Exercises to Prevent and Treat Female Overactive Bladder

What is Urinary Incontinence? 

Urinary incontinence, or UI, is a common, and often embarrassing, condition in which patients can not prevent urine from leaking from their bladder. The severity can range from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze, to having an urge to urinate that is so strong you are not able to make it to a toilet in time.

Though this condition is mostly seen in patients as they get older, UI isn’t an inevitable consequence of aging. UI is the result of a person losing control over their urinary sphincter, due to it being lost or weakened. There are five different types or urinary incontinence

  • Stress incontinence: when leaks are caused by pressure on the bladder due to coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising.
  • Urge incontinence: having sudden, intense urges to urinate followed by the involuntary loss of urine.
  • Overflow incontinence: the frequent and constant dribble of urine due to the bladder not fully emptying.
  • Functional incontinence: a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from making it to the bathroom on time.
  • Mixed incontinence: when you experience multiple types of urinary incontinence.

Causes of UI

Urinary incontinence can be caused by a number of things. Whether that be everyday habits, an underlying medical condition, or physical problem, consulting with your doctor will help determine what’s causing your incontinence.

Certain food, drink, or medications can act as diuretics — stimulating your bladder and producing more urine. They include: 

  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Large doses of vitamin C

Urinary incontinence may also be caused by an underlying medical condition that can be easily treated. Such as:  

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): This infection can irritate your bladder, causing you to have a strong urge to use the bathroom.
  • Constipation: Because the rectum is located near the bladder, they share many of the same nerves. Impacted stool in your rectum could cause these nerves to increase urinary frequency. 

Related: 13 Symptoms of a UTI

Urinary incontinence can also become persistent if a certain physical change or problem has occurred. These include: 

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and increased weight can lead to incontinence. 
  • Childbirth: Vaginal delivery can weaken muscles needed for bladder control and can damage bladder nerves. 
  • Menopause: After menopause, women naturally produce less estrogen, causing deterioration of the lining of the bladder and urethra — this can cause incontinence. 
  • Enlarged prostate: A condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, incontinence can stem from the enlargement of the prostate gland. 
  • Neurological disorders: Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, brain tumor, or spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals that control the bladder, causing UI.

Symptoms of UI

The main symptom of UI is the inability to prevent urine leakage. This could be a constant dribble of urine, or just an occasional accidental leakage. If you have incontinence, you may experience leakage that varies from small drops of urine to fully emptying your bladder. You may leak urine for a number of reasons. These reasons include: 

  • Exercising
  • Coughing
  • Laughing
  • Sneezing

Treatments for UI

Treatments for urinary incontinence will differ between men and women. Below are the common procedures performed at Urology Specialists of the Carolinas to treat UI. 

UI Treatments for Men

  • Minimally Invasive Sling Procedure: Synthetic material creates a pouch around the bladder that provides support and prevents leaking.
  • Bulking Agents: Synthetic material that is injected into the tissue surrounding your urethra that helps it stay closed. 
  • Artificial Urinary Sphincter: A balloon is inserted around the bladder that helps shut off the urinary sphincter until you’re ready to urinate. 
  • Pelvic Physical Therapy: Also known as kegels — which are great for strengthening pelvic floor muscles.
  • Medications: Various medications can be used to relax the bladder. 

UI Treatments for Women

  • Macroplastique: An injectable treatment — proving to give patients quick and noticeable improvements.
  • Minimally Invasive Sling Procedure: Provides the patient with support that either prevents leaking or reduces the amount of leaking during physical activity.
  • Pelvic Physical Therapy: Also known as kegels, helping control the flow of urine.
  • Medications: Various medications can be prescribed to keep the bladder from involuntarily contracting. 
  • Botox: This form of treatment relaxes bladder muscles that contract too often, eliminating the constant urge to go.
  • Posterior Tibial Nerve Stimulation: Electrical impulses help stimulate the sacral plexus, strengthening the muscles that control the bladder.
  • InterStim: Using a small, surgically implanted device, the sacral plexus is stimulated.

Are There Differences?: Overactive Bladder vs. Urinary Incontinence

There are some notable differences when discussing overactive bladder vs. urinary incontinence. OAB is a form of UI that presents itself differently. The sudden and frequent urge to urinate is present in both conditions, however, the main difference is patients with OAB feel an overwhelming urge to urinate, but don’t exactly leak urine like patients with UI frequently do. 

Though both problems can be annoying, and sometimes embarrassing, they’re treatable, but do require medical attention for the correct diagnosis and treatment. 

Treating OAB and UI With a Urologist

We hope this blog served as a helpful resource to differentiate urinary incontinence vs. overactive bladder. From constantly fearing you’ll have an accident, to living your life conscious of where the closest bathroom is, overactive bladder and urinary incontinence can feel like they’re controlling your life. 

Scheduling an appointment with one of our incredible urologists can be the first step you take to gaining back that control in your life. Click the button below to schedule an appointment with one of our urologists— your bladder will thank you!

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