Common ailments

Urge incontinence (overactive bladder)

I am a 37 year old woman and for the past year have been suffering terribly with sudden, uncontrollable urges to urinate. The problem has become so bad that I avoid being out and about for too long in case I can’t get to a toilet in time. It also means I wake up several times during the night needing the toilet.

I’m sorry to hear this is causing you so much anxiety. What you describe sounds as if it is the condition known as urge incontinence or an overactive bladder, and this is quite common. This is where the bladder contracts suddenly when you don’t want it to and when you’re not expecting it. Symptoms include an urgent feeling to go to the toilet, visiting the toilet frequently and sometimes leaking urine before being able to reach the toilet. To put it simply, your bladder muscle is sending the message to your brain that your bladder is fuller than it actually is. This results in the bladder contracting (squeezing) to early, giving you the feeling that you need to pass urine urgently.

A urine infection can give you similar symptoms so should to be tested for first, but usually the symptoms would not continue for as long as they have in your case.

You may find that it helps to make a few changes to your lifestyle. For example, whilst you may think that cutting back on the amount you drink will lessen your urge for the toilet, it will probably make things worse. This is because your urine will become more concentrated and may irritate the bladder further. You should aim to drink normal quantities of fluids (around 6-8 glasses) each day. However, do cut back on your consumption of caffeine as this has a diuretic effect, making you urinate more often. Caffeine can also stimulate the bladder making your urgency symptoms worse. Also, don’t be tempted to go the toilet more often than you need to for fear of getting ‘caught short’. This may worsen your symptoms in the long run as your bladder will get used to holding less urine, making it more sensitive and overactive at times when it is stretched a little.

I would recommend you speak to your GP or practice nurse about your condition as they will also be able to discuss something called bladder training with you. This is a technique which, over time, will stretch the bladder so that it can hold larger volumes of liquid and retrain it to be less overactive. There are also some medications that may help.

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