Do You Have One of These 10 Symptoms of Overactive Bladder?

Having an overactive bladder is far more common that you might think. According to the Urology Care Foundation, up to 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women live with overactive bladder symptoms. 

Many of these adults do not seek help for their condition. While there is a heavy stigma around overactive bladder symptoms, there is help. Knowing what the symptoms are, though, is the first step to being able to find the relief you’ve been hoping for. 

Before we discuss the symptoms, there are a few medical complications to consider. 


There are a few medical complications to consider when it comes to an overactive bladder. 

  • Frequent Urinary Tract Infections
  • Skin Rashes and Infections in the Pelvic Area
  • Increased Fall Risk Due to Frequent Trips to the Bathroom
  • Depression and Social Isolation
  • Lower quality of Life for Both People with OBS and Their Family and Caretakers

What are the Signs of an Overactive Bladder?

So, just what are the signs that someone should look for if they suspect they have an overactive bladder?…

1. Sudden Urge to Urinate

The most common sign of an overactive bladder is experiencing a sudden urge to urinate. This symptom can come on unexpectedly and frequently throughout the day.

This sudden urge to urinate often comes out of nowhere, but what does it feel like? 

What It Feels Like

The sudden urge to urinate can manifest in a few different ways. Oftentimes it feels like you’ve had to “hold it in” for too long. It is also often described as the “got to go” feeling. This sensation can feel mild or extreme, depending on the individual experiencing it.

When Does It Occur?

It can either come out of nowhere or happen after drinking fluids. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes a Sudden Urge to Urinate

Overactive bladders have a variety of different causes. What they all have in common is that they compromise the bladder’s ability to hold urine and the nervous system’s ability to regulate urination. These changes create that “got to go” sudden urge to urinate. 

This sudden urge to urinate can also come with incontinence… 

2. Urgency Incontinence 

Urgency incontinence is related to the “got to go” feeling. Specifically, this symptom is when an amount of urine leaks out when you feel the sudden urge to urinate. 

What It Feels Like

This symptom presents itself as urine leaking out when an individual feels the urge to urinate. The amount of urine is typically a noticeable, but still small, amount. It is not a full loss of control, but rather a sense of struggling to “hold it in.” 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Urgency Incontinence 

Overactive bladders cause individuals more symptoms than just a frequent need to urinate. Because the underlying causes of overactive bladders have to do with illness, physical injury, or other medical problems, there can also be problems with holding in urine. 

The urgency to urinate is closely related to urinating more often…

3. Urinating Frequently

As the name of this symptom would suggest, one of the key symptoms is having to urinate more frequently than most people. This condition is defined as having to urinate more than 8 times in a 24-hour period.  

What It Feels Like

This symptom is less of a sensation and more of a higher frequency of urination. The urination itself might feel normal, but it will happen much more often during any given day.

This symptom can be very hard to track for people who are concerned they have an overactive bladder. Keeping a journal where you tally the amount of times you urinate in a 24-hour period will help determine if this symptom is happening to you. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Frequent Urinating 

This sign is one of the key symptoms of an overactive bladder. Why? Because overactive bladders send the “got to go” feeling to the brain more often than healthy bladders do. That means that individuals with an overactive bladder will be heading to the restroom more often. 

This event can also occur during the night…

4. Nocturia

Nocturia is the technical term for urinating during the night. Now, it is common for people to wake up during the night to use the bathroom; however, if it happens too frequently, it could be a sign of an overactive bladder. 

What It Feels Like

Like frequent urination, this symptom is less about the feeling and more about how many times it occurs. Normally, people will wake up between 0 to 2 times per night to urinate. Any more than this range is a sign of an overactive bladder.

As with daytime urination, it is recommended to keep a tally to track how many times you urinate in one day. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Nocturia

Overactive bladders cause individuals to need to use the restroom more often, which also happens at night. This symptom is also related to the urgency incontinence and the urgent need to urinate. After all, it’s harder to “hold it in” while you’re in bed when the need to urinate feels urgent. 

This sign can also lead to bedwetting in some cases… 

5. Bedwetting

Overactive bladders can cause bedwetting for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, though, when we are asleep and the sudden urge to urinate comes on, it can be hard to make it to the bathroom in time. 

What It Feels Like

This symptom can occur in a variety of ways for people with overactive bladders. It can either be related to urgency incontinence and urine can leak as a person is waking up; it can also be related to the urgent need to urinate coming too quickly; and, if the case is severe, individuals can be too exhausted to reach their restroom in time. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Bedwetting

Overactive bladders and bedwetting are tied together due to a variety of factors. We already mentioned that urgency incontinence can cause bedwetting incidents, but the larger medical problems that can lead to an overactive bladder also play a role in creating the conditions that cause this symptom. 

Bedwetting can also be related to our next symptom: bladder spasms…

6. Bladder Spasms

Bladder spasms, also known by the technical name detrusor contractions, are when the muscle that controls the bladder unexpectedly squeezes. This squeezing can cause a sudden urge to urinate or even cause urine to leak. 

What It Feels Like

This symptom can feel like the urge to urinate coming out of nowhere; there can even be some urine leakage when it occurs. Bladder spasms can also create painful cramps that some people have described as being similar in severity to menstrual cramps. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Bladder Spasms

The muscle that controls the bladder can be subject to a variety of medical conditions that can cause an overactive bladder in adults. These issues include infection, nerve damage, and more serious medical problems. If this muscle becomes compromised by illness, it can lead to bladder spasms. 

If the muscle that controls the bladder spasms, urine can leak unexpectedly… 

7. Leaking Urine

Another common sign of an overactive bladder is leaking urine. This symptom can happen alongside the sudden urge to urinate, a bladder spasm, or during the night. While it isn’t always a sign of serious medical concerns, it is pressing to see a doctor to avoid depression and social isolation that can come with it. 

What It Feels Like

If leaking urine comes with the sudden urge to urinate, it can feel like an individual couldn’t “hold it” in long enough to reach the restroom. It can also feel like you’ve started to urinate without knowing it, but can be caught and “held in” before it becomes severe.  

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Leaking Urine

Overactive bladders are sending more urgent signals to the brain. This fact means that people with this condition will have to urinate more frequently. Unfortunately, it can also cause them to leak urine. When this isn’t the case, it’s important to remember that overactive bladders are also caused by infections and injuries that can compromise the ability to hold urine in. 

Leaking urine can also be related to the frequent urge to urinate…

8. Frequent Urge to Urinate

We’ve talked about a few closely related symptoms, but the frequent urge to urinate is separate. Rather than actually urinating or the urge being sudden like in other symptoms we have discussed, this symptom is a persistent feeling that an individual needs to urinate. 

What It Feels Like

Unlike the sudden urge to urinate which comes on rapidly and often out of nowhere, this frequent urge to urinate can be related to normal activities that increase urination—such as drinking coffee—only magnified. This symptom has been described by some as feeling like you have a “small bladder” and need to urinate more often to empty it out. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Frequent Urge to Urinate

Overactive bladders can combine having trouble holding in urine with sending too many signals to the brain. This combination creates a situation where people can feel like they have to urinate more frequently. 

The frequent urge to urinate is closely related to having difficulty holding urine in…

9. Difficulty Holding Urine

Adults with healthy bladders are able to “hold in” around two cups of urine without any medical side effects. Even though the urge to urinate might be extreme, they can typically hold it in long enough to find a restroom. 

With an overactive bladder, however, this task becomes much more difficult. 

What It Feels Like

For adults with an overactive bladder, holding it in can be a difficult or impossible task. Many individuals describe this as reaching their limit, or breaking point, with holding in urine. Everyone, even people without an overactive bladder, has a limit to how long they can hold in urine, but people with this condition have a much shorter limit. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Difficulty Holding Urine

Due to the combination of sending more urgent signals to the brain and, potentially, having incontinence issues, people with an overactive bladder cannot hold in urine to the extent that other individuals can. 

This inability to hold in much urine is related to having the sensation that your bladder is full even when it isn’t…

10. Feeling Like Your Bladder is Full

With an overactive bladder, individuals can feel like their bladder is full even after they have urinated. This issue is a slightly more rare symptom and should be taken very seriously. That is because it is often the sign of an infection or a more serious medical concern. 

What It Feels Like

This symptom feels like you have a full bladder even though you have just urinated. It can feel like you can’t empty your bladder no matter how much you use the restroom. This issue also creates more obstacles for individuals with incontinence and leakage as they might have trouble gauging when, and how often, to use the restroom. 

Why an Overactive Bladder Causes Feeling  Like Your Bladder is Full

Certain causes of an overactive bladder, such as infection, can make the bladder feel full even when it has just been emptied. If you are experiencing this condition, it’s time to speak with a doctor about finding the cause of your overactive bladder. 

What’s Most Important to Remember About Having an Overactive Bladder?

Overactive bladders are very serious conditions. While their medical concerns are important, they also exact a social toll on people who live with them. Frequent urination, and especially leakage and incontinence, can make attending social functions difficult, after all. This difficulty can lead to depression and social isolation. 

Your doctor can help you find solutions to this common medical condition.

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