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Did you know that about 33 million Americans suffer from overactive bladder (OAB)?

OAB is a common condition characterized by a sudden, urgent need to urinate or frequent urination. It affects about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men. According to the Urology Care Foundation, those numbers may be even higher, as many Americans don't report the condition, either because they're embarrassed or because they assume it's just another sign of aging.

The truth is, OAB is nothing to be ashamed of, and there are a variety of treatments your doctor can recommend to help you manage your symptoms.

What is overactive bladder?

OAB occurs when the muscles that control your bladder contract involuntarily, creating an urgent need to urinate before your bladder is full. This can occur because of a nerve problem, diabetes, poor kidney function or excessive consumption of fluids, especially those containing caffeine or alcohol. But often, the exact cause of OAB is unknown.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of OAB include:

• A sudden and intense need to urinate

• Urge incontinence – urine leakage immediately after an intense urge to urinate

• Having to get out of bed two or more times a night to urinate

It's important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, as they may be related to OAB or a sign of another illness, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney stones.

Getting relief without drugs

If your doctor diagnoses OAB, he or she can recommend a variety of treatments, many of which do not involve drugs. In fact, nondrug treatments such as bladder training and simple lifestyle changes may be recommended as a first line of defense.

Here are some common lifestyle changes you can use to treat your OAB:

• Keep a journal. The Urology Care Foundation recommends keeping a journal to record what and how much you drink and when you go to the bathroom. This information can help you and your doctor see patterns between your fluid consumption and urination frequency that you may not have noticed otherwise.

• Do Kegel exercises. These exercises may also be recommended to help you strengthen and control your pelvic floor muscles.

 • Try bladder training. Bladder training is when you schedule or delay bathroom trips. It can help you feel more in control of your urge to urinate.

• Watch your fluids. Work with your doctor to limit your fluid intake, especially before bedtime.

While lifestyle changes may not cure your OAB, they may help relieve your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or don't respond to lifestyle changes, medication or other treatments may be necessary.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or see an urologist if you have questions about your bladder health.

Dr. Brett Hill is an urologist with The Urology Center, PC in the Columbus Community Hospital Visiting Physicians Clinic.

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