The effects of overactive bladder on the body are obvious. But the emotional impact hasn’t been discussed much. You might avoid going on a road trip with friends, playing sports, or seeing your grandchildren because you’re worried about leaks or having to stop frequently to use the bathroom.
“People start living around managing their bladder,” says Aqsa Khan, MD, a urologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.
Even at home, OAB can make the simplest social interactions stressful. One of her patients, a 50-year-old woman, described how she was happily chatting with her neighbors in the yard when she suddenly started urinating during the conversation, Khan said. To cover it up, she turned the garden hose on to herself.
Losing control can be devastating, Khan said. “It’s losing something that really defines you as a social person,” she said. “In a way, it makes you feel childish. It puts you back in diapers.”
OAB can also affect intimacy. You may avoid sex for fear of leaking. This can lead to bigger relationship problems. If your partner doesn’t know what’s wrong, they may think it’s about them. Do your best to open up and trust your partner to have your back.
For couples who have been together for decades, the challenges of intimacy are hard enough. They can be even more overwhelmed when you’re in the dating game. “[OAB] They can be the elephant in the room when starting those more intimate relationships,” says A. Lenore Ackerman, M.D., director of research in the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at UCLA Health.
sleep problems and depression
You might wake up four times a night, only to fall back asleep right away each time. Others may only get up twice a night. But they have trouble falling back to sleep each time, which has a huge impact on their quality of life. “It was torture,” Khan said.
That’s because when you don’t get enough rest, your body doesn’t have a chance to recover. This can cause other problems, including problems with brain function. There is a strong link between OAB and depression, and lack of sleep is a key factor, Ackerman said. “Sleep is so important to all of this,” she said.
stress and tension
Anxiety surrounding OAB can also make your physical symptoms worse. Just as you might clench your jaw without realizing it, people with OAB often clench their pelvic floor muscles, says Veronica Asence, DPT. She is a physical therapist at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, MA, specializing in pelvic health.
“Your pelvic floor is always active: supporting your pelvis, supporting your organs,” she says. “If we tighten the pelvic floor muscles associated with impulsivity [to pee] And the anxiety surrounding that urge, like we keep tucking our tails. “
This constant squeezing can tire them out. So much so that they can get out of hand just when you need them most. Just find ways to relieve the anxiety and the tension in the pelvic floor that comes with it, and you’ll notice a big difference in your symptoms.
fight against stigma
If you’re older, you might think that urinary problems are a normal part of aging. (They’re not.) But if you’re young, OAB can come with added shame and self-blame. You may be wondering how this happened or what “problem” is with you.
Shame can be a major barrier to getting help, but OAB is more common than you think. “Talk to your friends,” Ackerman said. “It’s likely that some of them have it, too.” In fact, Ackerman says one of the first things she does when she meets new patients is tell them about her own urinary problems.
By talking about it more, others with OAB may become more willing to seek long-term treatment rather than just using pads, spare underwear, catheters, and other items to manage symptoms. They can be a great way to take back control. For example, new products are often designed with lightweight, flattering fabrics that hold a lot of fluid. But they can sometimes prevent people from getting professional help, Ackerman said.
“You don’t have to deal with this alone,” Ackerman said. “It happens to a lot of us, and there is treatment, and we want you to get treatment.”
talk to your doctor
“Doctors are in this profession because they want to help their patients,” says Sevann Helo, MD, a urologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “We can’t improve what we don’t know about.”
If your doctor doesn’t know how to treat OAB, they should refer you to someone who can. With help, you can take control of the situation. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 28 or 88,” Asence said. “You can retrain your bladder any time in your life.” The key, she adds, is to be persistent and take care of yourself. “The bladder has a personality much like that of a toddler: it excels at structure, discipline, and a healthy environment.”