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10 Ways To Control Your Overactive Bladder

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Jan 16, 2020.

Introduction: Overactive Bladder

Having an overactive bladder (also called urinary frequency) is more likely to happen as you age and in women after they have had children. Men with an enlarged prostate may also suffer with an overactive bladder. People with diabetes, neurologic disorders, or certain medications are at risk of urinary frequency, too. 

Bladder anatomy

  • Your bladder is shaped like an upside-down pear and holds about one and one-half to two cups (400 to 600 milliliters) of urine when full.
  • Beneath your bladder lies your pelvic floor muscles. These help support your pelvic organs and help keep the urethra (the tube that carries urine) closed.
  • The urethral sphincter is a band of muscles that circle the urethra. These muscles are crucial for bladder control and are meant to remain tightly closed preventing urine leakage.

People with an overactive bladder often have loss of bladder control and involuntary loss of urine. The amount of urine lost can range from just a few drops to a full bladder.

  • Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence. A laugh, cough, or movement is enough to cause leakage.
  • People with urge incontinence have a frequent and sudden need to urinate, regardless of how much urine is in the bladder.

Overactive bladder can seriously impact your daily activities and your overall lifestyle. Here are 10 ways to help tame your overactive bladder.

1. Try to avoid caffeine, carbonated drinks, sugar, alcohol, and spicy or acidic foods

  • Caffeine is a diuretic which makes you need to use the bathroom more often.
  • Carbonated drinks and sugar are thought to stimulate the bladder.
  • Alcohol switches off the ability of your body to concentrate urine. This means you tend to urinate more dilute, watery urine, which dehydrates you. Since you are dehydrated, you may drink more.
  • Acidic or spicy food may aggravate your overactive bladder and worsen your symptoms. Certain acidic fruit and juices like orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime can aggravate your bladder, too.

2. Losing weight may help to improve your bladder control

Excess weight puts extra stress on your pelvic floor muscles and contributes to an overactive bladder and loss of bladder control. If you can lose even a small amount of weight, it will help with bladder control.

The best weight loss plans are always those that set realistic goals combined with healthy eating habits and physical activity. Fad diets, although often successful short-term, rarely achieve sustainable weight loss, because once you tire of the diet, you often revert to ingrained unhealthy eating habits.

Check out our Obesity and Weight Loss guide for more information.

3. Pelvic floor exercises can help immensely

You can’t see your pelvic floor muscles; however, just like other muscles in your body they lose their strength if they are not put to use.

Pelvic floor exercises (called Kegel exercises) help strengthen the pelvic floor when done consistently at least twice a day. How are they done?

  • Imagine you are holding back gas or urine.
  • Squeeze and lift the rectal area without tightening your buttocks or belly. Try and hold it for a count of three before relaxing. Repeat this cycle 10 times. Do 10 sets of Kegel exercises, at least 3 times a day.
  • Increase your contractions as your doctor recommends.
  • Do not hold your breath when you do Kegel exercises. Keep your stomach, back, and leg muscles relaxed.
  • Don't use Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream which can lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — and an increased risk of a urinary tract infection.

Review our information about Kegel exercises for both women and men to learn more about the techniques.

4. Carefully manage your fluid intake

Drinking too much fluid puts pressure on your bladder, and makes you need to urinate. Drinking too little means your urine becomes concentrated, which irritates your bladder, and leads to urinary urgency.

However, it's important to maintain your fluid intake to avoid dehydration. You can drink slowly and throughout the day to maintain adequate hydration.

  • Aim to drink four to eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Look at your urine and aim for a light yellow color. Dark urine is a sign that you are not drinking enough. Colorless urine is a sign of drinking too much.
  • Try to drink only during the day and stop a couple of hours before you go to bed.
  • Drink mainly water; avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks night.

Training your bladder

You can train your bladder to only go at certain times. Basically, retraining involves emptying your bladder to a set schedule. Initially, you might go every hour. Gradually over a period of days and weeks, you extend the period of time between using the bathroom to several hours. Followed over six to eight weeks, this program requires a lot of determination, but success rates are good. Talk with your doctor to determine if bladder retraining is suitable for you.

5. Smoking may increase the urge to urinate

Smoking irritates the lining of the bladder, and also makes you cough, both of which are unhelpful if you have an overactive bladder.

It is a good decision for both general health reasons and overactive bladder reasons to stop smoking. Work with your health care provider to start a formal "Quit Smoking" program, which may involve smoking cessation medications and group support for the most successful outcome.

Learn more: Our Quit Smoking center also has some helpful advice.

6. Discuss FDA-approved therapies with your doctor

In addition to the exercises and behavioral modifications, many medications are available to help with an overactive bladder. One drug, Oxytrol for Women is even available over-the-counter (OTC) as a patch you change every 4 days. Extended-release forms may cause less dry mouth as a side effect.

Table 1. Medications Used for Overactive Bladder

Generic name Brand name examples
tolterodine Detrol, Detrol LA
oxybutynin Ditropan XL, Oxytrol, Oxytrol for Women, Gelnique
trospium Sanctura*, Sanctura XR*
solifenacin Vesicare
darifenacin Enablex
mirabegron Myrbetriq
onabotulinumtoxinA Botox

*brand discontinued in U.S.

View the Drugs.com slideshow on How to Manage Your Overactive Bladder, and speak with your doctor to see if any of these options are right for you.

7. Keeping a “bladder diary” may help identify triggers

Keeping a diary may sound time consuming, but it will help both you and your doctor identify any triggers for your overactive bladder and establish just how often you visit the bathroom each day.

How should you keep a diary for your overactive bladder?

  • Document exactly what kind of fluids you drink and their volume.
  • Write down the type and quantity of food you eat.
  • Record the number of trips to the bathroom and rate your trips as successful (no urine leakage) or not.
  • Indicate what you were doing when leakage or the urge to urinate occurred (for example: running, sneezing, exercise, general movement or just sitting)

8. Absorbency products can help

No matter how fast you can run, sometimes that bathroom is just a little bit too far in the distance. Don’t let yourself get caught in an embarrassing situation There is a wide range of products available that are discreet and comfortable.

Incontinence products excel in their absorbency and won’t leak or become lumpy when they get wet. They help control odor and minimize contact between urine and your skin, preventing the development of a rash or other irritation.

Many incontinence products are available, from discrete pads with little bulk that can be slipped into underwear, to disposable adult-sized underwear with in-built absorbency and easy-tear sides. Gender-specific products account for the different requirements of men and women, and there are many reusable and washable options available.

Common brands include Attends, Because, Tena, Tranquility, Depend, Prevail and Poise.

9. Seek help from a qualified physical therapist

Vaginal childbirth can damage the ligaments, nerves, and pelvic floor muscles that support the vagina, bladder and urethra. While pelvic floor exercises may help some women after birth, many need more intensive physical therapy.

Talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a qualified physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor therapy if you have any incontinence or pain that doesn’t go away after giving birth. Embarking on proper rehabilitation soon after having your baby may help you avoid more serious gynecological problems later on.

Related: Leaking while running? Pro tips to run without worry

10. Take charge: Seek your doctor’s advice

Approximately 80% of those affected by urinary incontinence can be cured or improved, yet only one in 12 people with incontinence issues seek help. Talk to your doctor about your bladder control as it can dramatically improve your lifestyle.

Your doctor can investigate and establish a cause for your overactive bladder. Treatment can then be tailored to this cause and may involve medications, bladder retraining, pelvic floor exercises, absorbent products, surgery, or combinations of these options.

Plus, consider joining the Drugs.com Overactive Bladder Support Group. Here, you can connect with people with similar questions and concerns, share your experiences, and keep up with the latest new drug approvals, ongoing research, and medical news.

Sources

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.