What is an overactive bladder?
Usually, the bladder uses a sense of pressure to politely ask you to empty it as soon as possible. Once you do that, it takes about two hours to fill it up and send it to the bathroom again. If, however, the bladder starts to demand that it be emptied every half hour or even longer, we are talking about an overactive bladder.
There are many causes of an overactive bladder. The bladder muscle that contracts when the bladder is full can be very strong and contract too soon. Sensors that measure pressure in the bladder can also be overly sensitive.
The neural pathways that carry the pressure signal from the bladder along the spinal cord to the brain can also be damaged. Spinal damage or conditions like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis can also change the way nerves work, causing the bladder muscle to contract more often.
If you often have urinary tract infections (UTIs), it could be that your bladder wall has been attacked by bacteria too many times, which means the stretch sensors no longer work properly.
It appears that women are more vulnerable to bladder problems than men. Bladder capacity varies from person to person, but as a general rule, women can store 350 to 550 ml, while men can store 550 to 750 ml. So it’s no wonder that women have to empty their bladders more often than men. On the other hand, the female urethra is seven times shorter than the male. And because men’s urethral opening and anus are farther apart, men deal with less bacteria in their bladder and therefore get bladder infections much less often.
From a statistical point of view, only one in one hundred men will have a urinary tract infection in their lifetime. During menopause, a lack of estrogen can also weaken the pelvic floor and connective tissues and lead to prolapse of the bladder or uterus. More generally, changes in hormone balance can also promote an irritable bladder. If estrogen levels drop, the bladder may react more strongly to certain substances in our urine, and less blood is supplied to the mucous membranes, which makes us more susceptible to inflammation.
However, not every voiding disorder has an organic cause – overactive bladder is the most common gynecological condition that cannot be fully attributed to physical causes.