Talking to Your Healthcare Provider About Overactive Bladder

Urology consultation

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Overactive bladder (OAB), characterized by sudden urges to urinate and an inability to control bladder function, is quite common. Researchers estimate that as many as 23.3% of Americans experience this condition, with women being twice as likely to have it than men.

While there are several treatment approaches to it—everything from lifestyle changes to medications—many people with OAB hesitate to report it. Conditions like this carry a great deal of social stigma.

It can be embarrassing for adults to admit to having problems with urinary incontinence and excessive urination, and difficult to talk about it openly. They may blame themselves for their OAB symptoms and avoid seeking medical help. But, as with other medical issues, getting good help will greatly improve outcomes.

Challenging as it may be, if you suspect you suffer from OAB, you must talk to your healthcare provider about it. A common misconception about it is that it’s a normal part of aging, but it’s not. It’s a treatable condition. With that in mind, it’s important to know when to seek help and how to go about getting it.

Talking to Your Healthcare Provider

The causes of OAB vary a great deal. Rather than being a disease in itself, it’s a set of symptoms that can be caused by a range of conditions, including weak pelvic muscles, nerve damage, some medications, and even alcohol or caffeine use.

Identification of OAB is crucial, and, as a rule, you should seek medical help any time your condition is hindering daily living or causing discomfort.   

 The Signs of OAB

Understanding the common symptoms of OAB is essential for proper management of the condition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are four major signs to look out for:

  • Urinary urgency is difficulty with or an inability to “hold” urine in when you have to urinate. This limits the amount of time you have to get to the bathroom before there is an accident.
  • Frequent urination, defined as needing to urinate atypically often—and more than you had previously—is another telltale sign of OAB.
  • Urge incontinence is the propensity to leak urine when you have a sudden and strong urge to urinate.
  • Nocturia, which is the need to urinate two or more times at night, is another characteristic of the condition.

When To Call Your Healthcare Provider

  • Beyond the presence of symptoms themselves, other aspects should prompt seeking out medical attention, including:
  • Disruption: Ask yourself how disruptive your symptoms are. If they’re preventing you from enjoying daily living, going to work, having sex, or other activities, you should seek help.
  • Proximity: Call your healthcare provider if you’re constantly worried about being in proximity to a bathroom because of your symptoms.
  • Interruption: Finding your sleep is interrupted because you have to urinate multiple times a night is a sign you need help.
  • Affected relationships: Especially because of the burden and shame that many feel when they have OAB, the condition can affect relationships with loved ones and family. If this is your case, seek out medical attention.

Getting Ready for Your Appointment

As you go in to see your healthcare provider about OAB, it’s also important to be prepared. You want to not only be able to talk in an informed manner about your condition but also to be ready to receive important information. To ensure that you’re ready for your appointment, here are some tips on what to bring:

  • List of medications: Bring a list of medications you’re taking, both prescribed and over-the-counter, as your practitioner will need to know this information. In addition, tell them about any vitamins, herbs, or supplements you take.
  • Medical history: While your healthcare provider will likely have access to your records, it’s a good idea to also have a list of past medical conditions you’ve experienced, both diagnosed and undiagnosed.
  • A supportive loved one or friend: If you feel comfortable enough with it, it’s a good idea to come to the appointment with a close friend, loved one, or family member for support. This person will be the second set of eyes and ears during the consultation.

Questions To Ask Your Healthcare Provider

Before you come in for your appointment, it’s also a good idea to have questions prepared. Here’s a list of important ones to ask:

  • Are these symptoms OAB or might I have another condition?
  • What tests will I need to take to find out?
  • What may have caused my OAB?
  • What can I do at home to manage symptoms?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Do I need a specialist for my care?  

A Word From Verywell

While the thought of discussing issues with urination and bladder health with your healthcare provider may make you anxious, it’s important to do so. Even though you’re better off the sooner you start managing OAB, the sad fact is that most delay getting help.

In fact, according to one study, people wait an average of 3.1 years after the onset of symptoms before they report it. This needs to change.

Know that healthcare providers do all they can to keep the clinical environment confidential, open, and welcoming. You’re far from alone if OAB systems are making you feel stigmatized, but you’re also far from alone if you suffer from this condition. If you suspect you may have it, don’t suffer in silence; get the help you need.


4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Reynolds W, Fowke J, Dmochowski R. The burden of overactive bladder on US public health. Curr Bladder Dysfunct Rep. 2016;11(1):8-13. doi:10.1007/s11884-016-0344-9

  2. Toye F, Barker K. A meta-ethnography to understand the experience of living with urinary incontinence: ‘is it just part and parcel of life?’. BMC Urol. 2020;20(1). doi:10.1186/s12894-019-0555-4

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Overactive bladder: causes, symptoms, treatment & prevention.

  4. Urology Care Foundation. Overactive bladder (OAB): patient guide.

By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.