How Is Urge Incontinence (Overactive Bladder) Treated?

4 answers | Last updated: Feb 21, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

How is urge incontinence (overactive bladder) treated?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is a senior medical editor at and a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics. She also provides housecalls and geriatric consultations in San Francisco.

Several approaches are used to treat urge incontinence (also called overactive bladder), which is the sudden and strong sensation of needing to use the bathroom, followed by a leakage of urine before this can happen. It's more common in older women, but many men are also affected.

First-line treatments:

Bladder training. Bladder training requires up to six weeks of dedicated effort but can be very effective. Not all doctors have the experience or time to coach patients through this method of learning to gradually gain better control over the bladder. One tactic is to try to develop a schedule for bathroom breaks and consciously delay urination until the set time. Gradually, the break times can be spaced farther apart. Biofeedback and electrical stimulation also are sometimes used to retrain the bladder.

Dietary changes. Controlling fluid intake and avoiding acidic foods (which are known to irritate the bladder) are especially useful with this type of incontinence. But withholding fluids is dangerous. and cutting back should be done carefully to avoid dehydration. Generally it's best to distribute fluid intake evenly throughout the day so the bladder isn't overtaxed at one time. People with urge incontinence should limit themselves to less than eight ounces of liquid per meal and should stop taking liquids two hours before bedtime. Minimizing constipation is also important.

Next-line treatments:

Medication. Several types can be used, especially bladder-relaxing agents (antimuscarinics). These include oxybutynin (Ditropan), tolterodine (Detrol), trospium (Sanctura), solifenacin (Vesicare), and darifenacin (Enablex). These drugs do work, but sometimes not as well as patients want them to, reducing incontinence episodes by 0.5 to 1 episodes per day; it's something, but not a miracle cure. They also carry often-noticeable side effects, mainly dry mouth and constipation. These drugs can be risky for the elderly, as they've also been linked to falls, blurry vision, and confusion.

Last-resort measures:

After other treatments have proven ineffective, the doctor may recommend high-tech nerve treatments such as sacral nerve stimulators, special botox injections (which can lead to a need for catheterization), and last-resort surgery to decrease bladder pressure and to increase bladder storage area by surgically relocating a section of bowel.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Be careful about using the medications. My 87 year old mother has started having memory problems. There was an article at by Dr. Leo Gallard, M.D. I read on 3/4/11 in which he claims that common over the counter and prescription drugs can cause memory loss and cognitive impairment.

Oxybutynin,tolterodine,trospium and solifenacin are all on his list of offenders. My mother has taken Detrol for years and her insurance won't cover it anymore. Her doctor prescribed darifenacin which is not on the list but I don't know if the damage has already been done.

She also takes Ranitidine which is on the list. I had asked her gastro doctor to take her off of Nexium after reading about its side effects. We may have jumped from the fire into the frying pan.

Also, there are many antidepressants on the list and I've been put on all of them at one time or another to help treat clinical depression, OCD and Adult ADHD.I'm having a hard time remembering things I should easily remember.

Kzar answered...

Massage can treat over active bladder. I learned this when i had overactive bladder ten years ago.

Popsie answered...

I have MS which often is linked with both frequency and urgency. The thing I have found the most helpful is the homeopathic treatment for incontinence provided by the UniScience Group. I have found this to be better than conventional drugs, supplements and herbs.