Is It a Bladder Infection or an Overactive Bladder?

Do you often have the sudden overwhelming urge to urinate? You might have an overactive bladder.

You feel an overwhelming urge to go, almost so strong you can’t control it. But is it a bladder infection, or overactive bladder?

While only your doctor can make the correct diagnosis, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.

What is a bladder infection?

Bladder infections, also called urinary tract infections, are much more common in women than in men because women have a shorter urethra (the tube that connects to the bladder and leads urine out of the body). This makes it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder.

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Common symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:

Your doctor will perform a urinalysis to look for blood and bacteria in your urine. Urinary tract infections are normally treated with antibiotics, and symptoms typically clear up within a few days after starting treatment.

What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder, on the other hand, is a condition where you feel a sudden and urgent need to urinate. It may be so strong that you aren’t able to resist it and have an accident with leakage of urine.

Overactive bladder is more common as we age (though can still occur in young patients) and may be a result of:

  • An enlarged prostate in men
  • Diabetes
  • Neurological disorders associated with strokes or multiple sclerosis
  • Medication
  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol

While it can be embarrassing to admit to your doctor that you can’t control your urination, know that’s what your doctor is there for. It’s important that you don’t suffer in silence. He or she can suggest lifestyle modifications, medications or surgical treatments that can help improve the situation.

“Patients with overactive bladder and urinary tract infections can both have bothersome symptoms such as urinary frequency, urgency and urinary incontinence,” said David Ginsberg, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at Keck School of Medicine and a urologist at the USC Institute of Urology at Keck Medicine of USC. “However, urinary tract infection symptoms tend to come on more acutely and are associated with pain or discomfort with urination.

“Overactive bladder symptoms are often slowly progressive, and over time, the urgency may become severe enough where it is associated with urinary leakage. Thankfully, both urinary tract infections and overactibe bladder are usually easily treated.”

If you’re experiencing pain, trouble or anything unusual with urinating, reach out to your primary care physician for help. If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit to schedule an appointment.

By: Anne Fritz