Managing an Overactive Bladder

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon May 22 2023.

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Overactive bladder is one of the most common types of urinary incontinence, impacting up to 33 million Americans. Unfortunately, the need to urinate frequently throughout the day can interfere with your routine and prevent you from getting out or spending time with loved ones.

We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Self Spenser, PT, DPT, CLT, OCS, a pelvic floor physical therapist and clinical owner of Magic City Physical Therapy in Birmingham, Alabama, to learn more about managing this common condition. 

What Is an Overactive Bladder?

Overactive bladder (also called OAB) is a type of urinary incontinence that causes a sudden or intense urge to urinate. The sensation occurs with little or no warning and can be hard to control. According to Dr. Spenser, most adults can hold their bladder for between two and four hours. However, if you make more than eight daily trips to the bathroom to urinate or get up in the middle of the night, you might have an overactive bladder.

What Can I Do For an Overactive Bladder?

If you think you or your loved one might have an overactive bladder, seeking treatment is essential. “Overactive bladder and urinary incontinence is a common problem among seniors,” Dr. Spenser said. “But bladder leakage can significantly impact the quality of life, leading to embarrassment, social isolation, and decreased independence.”

Fortunately, several strategies can help manage urinary incontinence and improve bladder control, including:

1) Keep a Bladder Diary

Overactive bladders affect everyone differently. For some people, it’s a constant challenge. But for others, it’s triggered by specific factors, like foods or drinks. So keeping a bladder diary can provide valuable insights into your urinary health.

“A bladder diary involves tracking when and how much urine is passed throughout the day,” Dr. Spenser said. “This helps understand patterns and identify times when urgency and even leakage are more likely to occur. Using this information, a Pelvic Floor Therapist can develop a personalized treatment plan.”

2) Bladder Training

Bladder training teaches you to delay bathroom trips, even if you feel the urge to urinate. “It involves gradually increasing the time between bathroom breaks to help your bladder hold more urine,” Dr. Spenser explained. “A Pelvic Floor Therapist can develop a personalized bladder training plan that gradually increases the time between bathroom breaks.”

“For example, if someone currently goes to the bathroom every hour, the plan may start by increasing the time between bathroom breaks by 15 minutes. Over time, the interval between breaks is gradually increased until the individual can comfortably hold urine for longer periods. It’s important to note that this process can take several weeks or months to see significant improvement.”

3) Stay Hydrated

If you have an overactive bladder, drinking more water might seem counterintuitive, but hydration does wonders for your urinary system.

“Most people think that if they drink more fluids, they will urinate more,” Dr. Spenser said. The problem with this is that decreasing fluids causes your urine to be more concentrated, which irritates the lining of the bladder, causing you to feel more urgency and potentially experience leakage.``

Caregiver Tip

Encourage your loved one to drink water throughout the day. “The general rule to follow is to try and consume at least half an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day,” Dr. Spenser said. “You should aim to have the color of your urine be clear to very pale yellow in color; a darker yellow color means you need to hydrate more.”

4) Schedule Toilet Breaks

Many people with overactive bladder start using the toilet more frequently to prevent urgency before it happens.

“Don’t empty your bladder ‘just because,’' Dr. Spenser said. “Trying to make sure your bladder is always empty can, unfortunately, lead to greater urgency, frequency, and potentially more leakage.” 

5) Do Kegel Exercises

Many people with overactive bladders have tight pelvic floor muscles.  “If your pelvic floor muscles cannot effectively relax, problems are bound to arise,” Dr. Spenser said. “A tight muscle is an inherently weak muscle in that it doesn’t have the power to contract when it needs to.”

“I begin teaching almost all of my clients how to properly lengthen the pelvic floor before any strengthening begins. The pelvic floor muscles need to be able to contract and relax just like any other muscle in the body.”

Recommended Reading: How To Do Kegel Exercises

Carewell Tip

“General strengthening exercises are another effective strategy for managing urinary incontinence, Dr. Spenser said. “Think about it… if you can’t get to the bathroom easily, you’re more likely to have accidents. Improving strength and mobility can help you make it to the bathroom on time.

6) Use Incontinence Products

Accidents are a normal side-effect of an overactive bladder. Fortunately, various incontinence products are designed to absorb leaks and protect your clothing and furniture. 

Our incontinence and toileting section features a complete selection of products, including:

  • Adult pull-up underwear

  • Adult diapers with tabs

  • Underpads and bedding

  • Incontinence pads

  • Wipes, washcloths, and moist towelettes

  • Catheters

7) Work With a Pelvic Floor Therapist

Mild and moderate symptoms of an overactive bladder often improve with healthy lifestyle changes and by incorporating the tips mentioned above. Consider working with a professional if you continue having urges and accidents.

“An experienced pelvic floor therapist can work with you individually to develop a treatment program tailored to your specific needs and goals,” Dr. Spenser said.


Living with an overactive bladder can be challenging, but remember that you should be embarrassed about it. Overactive bladders are incredibly common. However, by incorporating lifestyle changes and strategies to help you retrain your bladder, you can increase your quality of life and possibly reduce the number of restroom trips. If you’re experiencing bladder leaks, we encourage you to visit our incontinence & toileting hub for helpful resources, FAQs, and detailed product descriptions.

Need Help Finding Incontinence Products?

We’re here to help! Our Caregiving Specialists can answer your questions and make product recommendations. Call (800) 696-CARE or email

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.