5 Big Reasons You Pee So Much

Are your bathroom breaks interrupting your life? Find out the risk factors for overactive bladder.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

Overactive bladder (OAB) affects approximately 33 million Americans, though the number of people with symptoms is thought to be significantly higher. The condition, defined by an abrupt, strong need to urinate, isn't usually considered a serious health problem, but it can be annoying, messy and emotionally difficult. Victims are often left anxious and depressed, and many have tough times with work and relationships. 

Who's at risk for overactive bladder? 
There's no single illness or reason for overactive bladder; a range of things can contribute to your risk, and many more conditions and behavioral habits may exacerbate symptoms. Here are a few risk factors for overactive bladder. 

Our chances of developing OAB increase as we age, and about one in five Americans over age 40 display symptoms. Part of this is simply because our bodies might not function as well as they used to. Bladder muscles frequently lose strength and flexibility with the passing of time. Our cognitive function may decline, as well, slowing communication between the bladder and the brain. That's not all; as years go by, we're more likely to develop illnesses connected to OAB, like diabetes. 

Though some studies find men and women develop OAB at equal rates, others have discovered rates are somewhat higher in women, especially if they're post-menopausal. After menopause, it's believed that hormone shifts, particularly estrogen loss, causes the bladder and urinary tract to weaken. People who have had multiple babies are also at an increased risk for OAB, since pregnancy does a number on pelvic floor muscles, which help control urination. 

Neurological conditions and nerve damage 
People are likelier to experience OAB when abnormal nerve signals tell the bladder to contract suddenly when it's not full. This can be a result of an injury affecting your brain, nerves or spinal cord, or a consequence of an ailment affecting neurological function, like diabetes, dementia, Parkinson's disease, stroke or multiple sclerosis. 

Studies show that the more you weigh, the greater your chance of OAB, likely due to increased pressure on the bladder. Obesity may also stretch pelvic muscles, reduce blood flow and decrease nerve sensation, which contribute to leakage and feelings of urgency. That's why, when treating OAB, one of the first lines of treatment is slimming down. 

Prostate conditions and other blockages 
Urine must have a clear path if the bladder is to function correctly. When something is blocking that conduit, whether it's an enlarged prostate, bladder stones, constipation—or less frequently, a tumor—OAB can be the result. Certain surgeries, including prostate or pelvic surgery, may also contribute to the obstruction of urine flow. 

In addition to these risk factors for overactive bladder, the following habits are thought to exacerbate the symptoms: 

  • Smoking, which may irritate the bladder 
  • Certain medications, which can cause you to urinate more often 
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol, which may cause you to urinate more often 
  • Mobility issues, including arthritis, which may prevent you from finding a bathroom in time to urinate 

If you believe you may be displaying symptoms of OAB, see your health care provider, who can diagnose your condition and begin a course of treatment. 

Updated in the March 2021. 

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