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Grillo Center: Overactive bladder not part of normal aging
Grillo Center: Overactive bladder not part of normal aging

By Mary Beth Lemley

Q. My mother is concerned about locating a restroom every time we go out. Are bladder problems a normal part of aging?

A. Your mother may be experiencing overactive bladder symptoms.

OAB occurs when the bladder muscles contract involuntarily before the bladder is full, causing spasms that are sending the message “time to go.”

These spasms are not a normal part of aging. When urinary frequency is greater than eight times per day or more than once during the night, OAB may be the cause.

It is estimated that 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women in the U.S. experience OAB symptoms. Risk factors for OAB include being overweight, hormone changes, urinary tract infections, medication side effects, pelvic floor muscle changes and neurologic changes from diseases such as stroke, muscular dystrophy or diabetes.

OAB symptoms are ordinarily evaluated by a medical practitioner to determine if there is another cause for the urinary urgency. This involves a medical history, physical exam and urine analysis. Further testing may be done if the provider suspects other physical disorders are causing these symptoms.

Lifestyle changes are typically the first line of treatment for OAB. Bladder training, bladder control strategies, dietary changes, pelvic floor muscle exercises and fluid management are all effective means to treat OAB.

The goal of bladder training and control strategies is to become aware of patterns of urinary urgency and incontinence episodes and to relearn skills needed to control storage and emptying of urine from the bladder.

If lifestyle changes alone don’t achieve the desired results, there are medications that treat OAB. Antimuscarinics are a class of drugs that help block bladder muscle contractions; common side effects of these medications include dry mouth and constipation. Beta-3 receptor agonists are also used to treat OAB. These medications have fewer side effects but tend to be more expensive than the antimuscarinics.

For the majority of patients, OAB symptoms are successfully controlled by lifestyle changes, medication or a combination of these options. If these methods are not successful, other possibilities include Botox injection, nerve stimulation and surgery. These are more involved treatments and require regular visits to a provider for procedures and follow-up appointments.

Your mother should be able to successfully manage her OAB symptoms. Encourage her to see a practitioner who will diagnose and treat her symptoms so she can relax and enjoy her time out without worry.

Mary Beth Lemley volunteers with the Grillo Center, which offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact, 720-854-7293 or 4715 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.


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