Suffering from an overactive bladder creates stress, but is the opposite true? Can stress cause overactive bladder?
The connection between stress and illness is a complex one, and there are indications that stress can play a role in the condition known as overactive bladder. Let’s explore why and how.
What is Overactive Bladder?
Many of us have experienced that uncomfortable feeling when we have to pee urgently and can’t hold on any longer. If it’s happening a lot, you may have overactive bladder.
This condition is marked by frequent and sudden urges to urinate that may be difficult to control. You may feel like you need to pass urine many times during the day and night. You may also experience urgency incontinence, which is the unintentional loss of urine.1
If you have these symptoms, you’re not alone. One estimate puts the number of people affected in the United States at 33 million adults, including as many as 30% of men and 40% of women. The number could be even higher, as it may be under–reported due to embarrassment about the condition.2
Dealing with this on a regular basis can cause unease that in turn leads to self-isolation. It may cause you to limit your work and social life.1 All of that is also a recipe for anxiety, stress and even depression.
Can Stress Cause Overactive Bladder?
Stress is part of life, an automatic physical, mental and emotional response to a challenging event. It can actually be used in a positive way, leading to growth, action and change. But negative, long-term stress can lessen your quality of life.3
Physically, extreme stress can lead to migraines, high blood pressure, and more. And, stress can also impact the health of your bladder.4
That includes a connection between stress and overactive bladder. In one study, patients with overactive bladder (OAB) reported psychological stress levels that were significantly higher than healthy control patients. There was also a positive correlation between perceived stress levels and urinary incontinence symptoms, and its impacts on quality of life among OAB patients.5
Other studies showed a relationship between anxiety and overactive bladder and urinary incontinence symptoms. One report showed that 48% or almost a half of the OAB subjects had anxiety symptoms, and one quarter or 24% of OAB subjects had moderate to severe anxiety.6
There are several possible reasons why anxiety leads to OAB.
The first is a natural “flight or fight” response of the body to stress. The resulting increase to the sensitivity of the nervous system leads to greater stimulation of the bladder in those with OAB.7 Having urinary incontinence then increases the stress that you may not be able to make it to the bathroom in time. That anxiety makes your bladder even more reactive, and you become stuck in a “vicious cycle.”8
Another possibility is that anxiety and stress causes muscle tension which in turn affects the muscles of the bladder and increases the urge to urinate.7
Finally, studies also link nocturia, a symptom of OAB in which you wake frequently during the night to go to the bathroom, with depression and anxiety. One study contended that depression leads directly to nocturia.9
How Can You Ease the Stress of Overactive Bladder?
Since the relationship between stress and overactive bladder can go both ways—overactive bladder can lead to stress and stress can lead to overactive bladder—then treatment can also take different forms.
In regards to overactive bladder, you may be able to manage symptoms with behavioral strategies, such as dietary changes, timed voiding and bladder-holding techniques using your pelvic floor muscles.1
With stress, you can manage it by enhancing your ability to cope with adversity, or to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation.3
The first step is to see a health care practitioner for a proper diagnosis and help with a treatment plan.
See a Doctor
If you’re struggling with stress or an overactive bladder, or both, use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. Get help and advice to manage your symptoms of anxiety, depression, and overactive bladder syndrome.