Home Conditions Incontinence What’s the Difference Between an Overactive Bladder, Urinary Incontinence and Urinary Tract...

What’s the Difference Between an Overactive Bladder, Urinary Incontinence and Urinary Tract Infections?

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When there is anything going on with the bladder, it can be difficult to determine just what the problem might be, and it is because so many issues involve identical symptoms. As an example, those with overactive bladders may find that they can “no longer hold urine normally…[and] often feel a sudden urge to urinate or experience an accident.”

And while you might say that urinary incontinence is the same, with loss of bladder control allowing urine to leak out, they are actually two different things. In fact, experts will tell you that incontinence is not a condition, but actually the symptom of one, including overactive bladder.

Just consider that you might have some urinary incontinence because you consumed far too much fluid, you have just had a baby or some sort of surgery, or you have something like a UTI (urinary tract infection). That, as you see, brings us to the third item in the question posed by the title of this article – the UTI.

Fortunately, we already have a partial answer – the main difference between an overactive bladder, UTI and urinary incontinence is, quite simply, that the first two are conditions while urinary incontinence is often a symptom of those conditions.

A Closer Look at Overactive Bladders

Of course, incontinence is not the only indicator of one or both conditions. Overactive bladder, typically called OAB is caused by muscles around the bladder behaving in an involuntary manner. This unusual behavior by muscles you normally control on your own can be due to a long list of causes, including:

  • You drink excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine that can overstimulate the muscles and act as diuretics the body needs to flush
  • You have a medical condition such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease that affects the nervous system
  • You have bladder abnormalities or obstruction
  • You have kidney disease or diabetes
  • You are suffering from declining cognitive function due to age
  • You are male and have an enlarged prostate
  • You may have had a stroke and one of the effects was loss of muscle control in that area of the body

Regardless of the cause, your condition is typified by a sudden urge to urinate, and the urge may be almost impossible to halt, causing leakage. You may urinate more than eight times a day and wake at night needing to urinate.

It is a condition that can be managed through activities as simple as timed voiding and controlled fluid consumption, pelvic floor exercises and strengthening, and behavioral strategies. However, the first thing anyone must do with a sudden change in bladder control resulting in incontinence is to visit a physician to ensure it is not a serious medical issue at fault.

Urinary Tract Infections

UTIs can be quite painful and even destructive. They usually occur when bacteria are able to enter the urethra and then travel upward to the bladder. Because women are structurally different, with shorter urethras, they typically get UTIs more often than men. However, men will also suffer such infections.

Unlike OAB, though, no behavioral or lifestyle changes can help to overcome the issue. This is a difficult infection and has to be addressed with medical support, typically in the form of antibiotics. The type used depends entirely on your medical history and the level of infection (i.e., the severity) and the bacterial type.

Your doctor will do a urine test and then prescribe any one of a number of antibiotics, and it is imperative that you use the full course and follow up with the doctor. Why? UTIs can be so severe that they require hospitalization and may even travel as far as the kidneys.

The symptoms of a UTI include, as you know, urinary incontinence, but they may also present in the form of an abnormally strong urge to urinate, pain and burning during urination, blood in the urine and even an urge to urinate without passing any urine at all. Some men experience rectal pain while women can have general pelvic and lower back pain.

So, never think that a sudden urge to urinate is a sign of OAB or a UTI. Instead, head to your doctor immediately and let them make the determination. Chances are that urinary incontinence may be one of your symptoms, and it could be that you have neither an OAB or UTI but something else that causes your symptoms.

Types of Incontinence Matter

After all, if you speak with experts, they tell you that there are a few “types” of incontinence. Stress incontinence is one and can happen whenever pressure is applied to the area around the bladder. For instance, coughing, laughing hard, lifting something heavy, even having your cat jump on your lap or abdomen while you stretch out can lead to urinary leakage. The urge to urinate at such times may be mild to strong, and often cued by the sensation caused by your weakened urethra. This form of incontinence is often due to muscles around the pelvic floor, bladder and urethra weakening, and may not always be due to a UTI or even OAB.

The Costs of Bladder Issues

It goes without saying that any condition that presents you with the risk of wetting your pants can be quite life-altering. Many people do not realize the seriousness of the overall effects of incontinence or issues that might cause it. Additionally, there is that risk of feeling deeply upset by the condition, avoiding socializing, and even being injured if you find yourself rushing to the bathroom, but falling or tripping along the way.

While a CDC report from 2014 pointed out that roughly half of all older adults in the United States have some sort of incontinence, it is not an inevitable part of aging. If it does occur, it is not necessarily permanent. If it is going to be ongoing, the number of incontinence products is astonishing, and patients can easily find remarkably high-quality products such as incontinence undergarments or pads and shields that can trap moisture, be worn discreetly and allow for independence to remain. The key is to find out what is going on – UTI, OAB or muscle weakening – and work with a doctor to overcome the issue.

Cindie Hood is a Product Manager at AllegroMedical.com with a core focus on products that help active aging adults and caregivers.