Overactive bladder (OAB) is a chronic condition of the bladder that causes sudden urges to urinate. The urge comes from bladder muscle contraction. The urge can happen suddenly and at any time, regardless of the amount of urine in the bladder and may cause urine leakage (incontinence).
OAB affects millions of people throughout the world. According to the National Association for Continence, one in five adults over the age of 40 is affected by OAB or recurrent symptoms of urgency and frequency. In many cases, the cause of bladder overactivity is unknown, but the good news is that several treatment options are available.
As stated above, OAB is characterized by the sudden and intense urge to urinate regardless of the amount of urine in the bladder. These urges may or may not cause urine to leak out of the bladder. When leakage is involved, another condition comes into play—urinary incontinence (UI), which is defined as the involuntary loss of urine.
Urge vs. Stress
When sudden urges associated with OAB cause urine leakage, it’s called urge incontinence. Sometimes urine leakage can occur as a result of sudden movement, such as laughing or sneezing, which puts pressure on the bladder. This type of involuntary leakage is called stress incontinence and occurs independently of OAB.
Urge and stress incontinence and OAB are sometimes discussed collectively, especially when it comes to certain treatment options involving the strengthening of the pelvic floor muscle (detrusor) that is responsible for suppressing urine leakage. However, OAB and stress incontinence are two different conditions, and urge incontinence is usually considered a symptom of OAB.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on Aug 25, 2010
Updated on Oct 11, 2012
Medically reviewed by Andrea Baird, MD