What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder is a combination of symptoms that can cause you to need to urinate more frequently, have more urgency, experience incontinence (leakage) and a need to urinate at night. One or all of these symptoms can cause considerable stress and a negative impact on your quality of life.

What are the specific symptoms of overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder represents a collection of symptoms that can include:

  • Urinary urgency: This is a failure to be able to postpone the need to urinate. When you feel you need to urinate, you have a limited amount of time to get to a bathroom.
  • Frequency of urination: People who experience this symptom need to urinate very often. Typically it’s an increase in the number of times you urinate compared to what you previously experienced.
  • Urge incontinence: In this case, there can be a leakage of urine when you get the urge to urinate.
  • Nocturia: This symptom is characterized by the need to get up and urinate at least two times each night.

What causes overactive bladder?

An overactive bladder can be caused by several things, or even a combination of causes. Some possible causes can include:

  • Weak pelvic muscles: Pregnancy and childbirth can cause your pelvic muscles (the muscles and tissues that support the organs in your lower abdomen) to stretch and weaken. This can cause the bladder to sag out of its normal position. All of these factors can cause leakage.
  • Nerve damage: Sometimes signals are sent to the brain and bladder to empty at the wrong time. Trauma and diseases can cause this to happen. These can include:
  • Medications, alcohol and caffeine: All of these products can dull the nerves, which affects the signal to the brain. This could result in bladder overflow. Diuretics and caffeine can cause your bladder to fill rapidly and possibly leak.
  • Infection: An infection, like a urinary tract infection (UTI), can irritate the bladder nerves and cause the bladder to squeeze without warning.
  • Excess weight: Being overweight places extra pressure on your bladder. This can lead to urge incontinence.
  • Estrogen deficiency after menopause: This hormonal change could contribute to a loss of urine due to urgency. Ask your doctor if vaginal-only estrogen therapy is right for you. This is different from “systemic” hormone therapy, which is absorbed throughout the body.

Often, there may be no specific explanation for why this is occurring.

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