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Overactive Bladder Symptoms

What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a physical syndrome with symptoms that include:

  • an urgent need to urinate
  • possible urine leakage
  • frequent trips to the bathroom

The symptoms of OAB may vary somewhat from one person to another. Your doctor will usually know from your symptoms whether or not you have OAB.

OAB symptoms may interfere with your daily activities and disrupt sleep. The potential for frequent, hurried trips to the bathroom and the possibility of incontinence can be stressful. Many people find that OAB makes them less social and more likely to stay home to avoid being caught without a bathroom.

Sudden urges

OAB causes strong, sudden urges to urinate. This isn’t the same as when you wait too long to use the bathroom and the urge gets gradually stronger as time passes. This symptom can arise quickly and without warning, even when you’ve recently urinated. In some cases, people with OAB may not be able to make it to a bathroom in time, and urine involuntarily leaks from their bladder. This is called urinary incontinence.

Urge incontinence

Urge incontinence is the loss of bladder control that causes involuntary leakage of urine. It starts with a sudden, insuppressible bladder-muscle contraction when the bladder is filling with urine. People with OAB usually have little or no time to recognize the need to urinate. The leakage can be as little as several drops of urine or several ounces. This is perhaps the most disruptive symptom of OAB because it can create a stressful situation. Because you don’t know when leakage is about to occur, you may find yourself in need of fresh clothing at inopportune moments.


People with OAB feel the need to urinate more often than usual, usually eight or more times in 24 hours. They typically have less urine in the bladder compared to people with normal bladder function. If you have OAB, you may need to frequently leave social situations to relieve yourself. The frequency of OAB isn’t usually tied to consumption of fluids. The need to urinate often is present whether you limit fluid intake or not.


Nocturia is a condition that involves waking up to use the bathroom several times at night to the point that a sleep cycle is disrupted. This is an extension of the urinary frequency symptom. OAB will wake you throughout the night to send you to the bathroom. This is very common among people who have OAB. 


Treatment usually involves a combination of:

  • medication
  • physical exercises
  • personal hygiene practices
  • weight management

The takeaway

OAB a physical syndrome that can cause physical discomfort and sleep disruption. It causes sudden, strong urges to urinate, with more frequency than usual. You may need to use the bathroom eight or more times per day and wake up at night to use the bathroom.

The symptoms of OAB are uncomfortable and disruptive. They may begin suddenly, for instance, after surgery or childbirth. They can also worsen over time with deterioration of the pelvic floor muscles. Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice the symptoms of OAB. Early treatment of OAB can help reduce or even eliminate the symptoms. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: The Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Aug 09, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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