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Overactive Bladder: A Functional Approach

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Have your bathroom habits felt more urgent lately? Do you worry about finding a restroom in time? Do you feel like your bladder is out of control?

There can be many factors that affect urination on a day to day basis, but if your sudden urges have become a regular occurrence, it may be time to consider overactive bladder.

Overactive bladder is far from rare. In fact, the Urology Care Foundation estimates that over 33 million people in the United States manage an overactive bladder on a daily basis.

At TRULY HEAL, we use functional medicine and coaching to help people overcome bladder urgency and incontinence. Let’s learn more about overactive bladder and what you can do to regain your bladder control naturally!

 

What is an Overactive Bladder?

Overactive bladder, or OAB, is a condition that causes a sudden urge to urinate. These urges often occur frequently throughout the day and are often difficult to control. Some people also experience sudden involuntary urination along with these urges.

When the bladder is working properly, the urge to urinate occurs gradually as the bladder fills. Nerves in the expanding muscle tissue signal to the brain that it’s time to urinate. When the bladder is full, the muscles of the pelvic floor and urethra work to keep the urinary sphincter muscles closed and prevent urination until you are ready to go. Then, the sphincter relaxes, and the bladder tightens to push the urine out.

With OAB, the muscles of the bladder begin to contract involuntarily, giving the sensation of urgency – even when there is little urine in the bladder. In some cases, the urinary sphincter muscles also relax prematurely, which causes involuntary urination. 


Is Overactive Bladder the Same as Incontinence?

While OAB can occur alongside incontinence, they are slightly different. OAB simply refers to increased urinary urgency and frequency. Incontinence, however, is a complete loss of control of the bladder (having an accident). Urge incontinence can accompany OAB and occurs when one loses control of the bladder shortly after an urge begins.

The Mental and Emotional Effects of Overactive Bladder

For many people, OAB does only cause physical discomfort, but emotional stress as well. Worry about getting to the bathroom in time, frustration, and even embarrassment is common in those with OAB. A coping mechanism for some people with OAB is to limit their work and social interaction to avoid worry or embarrassment. The psychological stress is another major factor which can worsen a condition.

For example, when you wake up to go to the bathroom, it can also be due to the fear of not being able to hold your bladder, which can cause someone to get up 3-4 times a night. This is a psychological programming which can occur for some individuals. it is important that if you are waking up 3-4 times a night to try and control the urge, step by step limiting the 4 bathroom visits to 3. Reading a book, thinking about other things or being mindful and focusing on the present moment until the urge passes. This practice often helps to reduce the psychological stress of an OAB.

Thankfully, functional medicine and TRULY HEAL can help give you back control over your bladder so you can rejoin your active life with confidence.

What Are the Symptoms of an Overactive Bladder?

  • You regularly have sudden urges to urinate that are difficult to control.
  • You urinate eight times or more in a 24-hour period.
  • You wake up more than two times in the night to use the bathroom.
  • You experience unintentional loss of urine after a sudden urge to urinate.

 

What Can Cause Or Contribute To An Overactive Bladder? 

  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Constipation or altered bowel movements such as IBS
  • Medications 
  • Ageing 
  • Nerve damage or certain neurological conditions such as stroke, MS
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Cognitive disorders such as Alzheimers or dementia 
  • Urinary disorders (infections, stones, bladder abnormalities)
  • ADHD
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Weak pelvic muscles 
  • Enlarged prostate gland 
  • Menopause and hormonal changes 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Stress, depression and anxiety 

What Causes Overactive Bladder?

Basic considerations


Overactive bladder can simply be a side-effect of our daily habits. For instance, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol can lead to increased urgency. Irregular bowel movements and constipation can also cause changes in urination, as the intestines press against the bladder. Many medications can also cause increased urination or contribute to the sensation of urgency and frequency.

Chronic health conditions


Some medical conditions can cause OAB as a side effect. Nerve damage or certain neurological disorders, specifically stroke and multiple sclerosis, can interfere with the normal brain-to-bladder connection and give way to OAB and incontinence. Diabetes and obesity are often related to increased urination due to higher levels of sugar in the urine. Cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia can affect an individual’s ability to get to the bathroom because they are unable to properly process the nerve signals from the bladder to the brain.

Urinary disorders


Issues like urinary tract infections, bladder abnormalities, and bladder stones can cause an increased sense of urgency as well as prolonged OAB symptoms. Because the prostate gland encloses the urethra in men, enlarged prostates can often cause increased urgency.

Women’s health concerns


During menopause, hormonal changes often play a part in bladder control. It is during this time that many women notice that they must go to the bathroom more often, or even experience leakage. Pregnancy also causes an increased urge to go to the bathroom. During pregnancy, the growing baby puts added pressure on the mother’s bladder. After birth, the effects of months of pressure may leave residual weakness in the pelvic muscles or disorganized nerve signals between the brain and bladder. This can lead to ongoing issues with OAB for a short while after delivery. TRULY HEAL can help women with OAB and incontinence, with holistic functional medicine coaching and self-care techniques.

Who is Most at Risk for Overactive Bladder?

In general, OAB occurs most in older people. As we age, the bladder loses elasticity and toughens. It holds less liquid than in younger years and the reflexes weaken. This makes those over the age of 65 more likely to develop overactivity.

Age also plays a part in other contributing factors, such as enlarged prostates, diabetes, and bowel issues. Age-related cognitive decline has been linked to OAB. Research sees a correlation between those who’ve had a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease with increasing rates of incontinence and overactive bladder.

For these cases, lifestyle management is key. Timed fluid schedules, bathroom schedules, and protective/absorbent undergarments can drastically improve the quality of life for these individuals.

Regain Control: Therapies and Lifestyle Habits for Bladder Control

Although OAB can be a frustrating issue, thankfully there are ways to help manage and even reverse an overactive bladder.

Healthy Diet for Bladder Control

A healthy diet can limit urgency triggers as well as support a healthy bladder. Avoid foods and drinks that contain alcohol, coffee, soda, artificial sugars, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, citrus fruits. These are known to either increase urgency or irritate the bladder.

Exercise for Bladder Control


Exercise is crucial to keep a healthy weight but can be a triggering factor in OAB. Many exercises (like running) put pressure on the bladder and increase urgency. Instead, opt for exercises that are gentle on the bladder, like hand weights, weight machines, walking, swimming, and bicycling. Always be sure to empty your bladder before exercising.

Kegel exercises are one of the best self-care exercises for improving bladder stability and reducing OAB symptoms. Practice Kegels at least three times per day to keep your pelvic floor strong.

Acupuncture for Bladder Control


Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have treated issues like overactive bladder for millennia. Acupuncture uses tiny needles to stimulate healing points along the body, including points that improve kidney function, bladder function, nerve regulation, stress, and metabolism. Chinese herbal medicine also offers individualized solutions for bladder control and overall health.

PEMF Therapy for Bladder Control

PEMF, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, is a helpful option for those with overactive bladders, especially women with stress incontinence.
PEMF therapy is a version of magnet therapy that can be used to stimulate the nerves that control the pelvic muscles. Studies show that PEMF therapy is successful in reducing urgency and urinary leakage caused by simple daily pressures like laughter, exercise, or coughing. PEMF works by reducing inflammation in the lower pelvic region, as well as stimulating healthy blood flow to the muscle and nerves of the bladder.

Functional Medicine for Better Bladder Control


While overactive bladder can greatly affect your daily quality of life, there’s no reason to live with the stress of urgency. Natural and conventional remedies offer anyone with OAB confidence and relief.
Functional medicine is a well-rounded approach to finding bladder balance. Through the health coaching program at TRULY HEAL, we can help you find the underlying root causes to  conditions and thus solutions that will work best for your unique situation.
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