"There’s so much help out there, and for women, to talk to each other and get support from each other, that's really important”
"I’ve no problem talking about OAB – a lot of men definitely would have, they’d find it very embarrassing and they wouldn’t talk to their friends or anyone about it"
Joe's StoryAlthough Joe Curley describes his Overactive Bladder (OAB) symptoms as mild, it’s an “inconvenience” that he has had to cope with for the best part of forty years.
“As far as managing my OAB is concerned, I do okay. Some days are better than others, and some nights I may only be up two or three times to relieve myself; other nights it could be four or five times,” says the Galway man (aged 81). “It’s not too bad but it’s an inconvenience I live with. It’s like having a tooth ache, when it’s gone you don’t worry about it, but when it’s there you do your best to cope with it.”
“When I’m at home and in my own environment, it’s easy enough. But long meetings, church services such as funerals, going to the theatre or cinema can be very difficult. It is very important for me to know beforehand where the toilets are located for obvious reasons. But at a meeting of say four or five people it is embarrassing to have to leave more than once.
“Over the years I’ve noticed a few triggers for my OAB; it can depend on what I eat or drink, or if it’s a stressful day, that seems to trigger the frequency a bit. Some times a drop in temperature has an immediate effect putting pressure on the bladder, even stepping out from a warm car. The difference in temperature can be as little as a few degrees,” he adds.
Now almost 82, Joe recalls having bladder problem from a very early age. He first attended an urologist for treatment in the early 1970s without much success. “It was possible to live with the condition once I was within reach of a place to relieve myself, I could write a book about that.”
“Years ago before the big roadway programme, not just the motorways, it was not a problem to stop along the road to relieve yourself. I remember one early morning on the way to Dublin in the dark I was relieving myself at the end of a lane on to the main road when I was illuminated, in full flow, by a farmer’s tractor not ten feet away just starting out for the day. We Irish are very sensitive about seeing someone who literally has to pee,” Joe laughs. “Thankfully an increasing number of service stations on the motorways now that should solve the problem there.”
In the 1990s Joe recalls that his OAB symptoms worsened. He was referred by his doctor to another urologist and was prescribed medication for his condition, which seemed to work for a while. However, Joe has found that simple self-management techniques provide him with the greatest relief from his OAB symptoms.
“I try to avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juices or drinking too late at night. Some foods can also be a trigger. My daughter told me about pelvic floor exercises a while back and I do them every day. I think in fact the exercises are getting it more under control. I think self-management is the best way to go for me and hopefully that will improve the situation.”
John's Story“I worked as a company executive and was often on the road; frequent pit stops were the order of the day. I had a mental map of where all the rest rooms were”
John Whelan does not subscribe to the theory that overactive bladder (OAB) syndrome is an inevitable consequence of old age, a condition that develops as the Golden Years set in. And he is correct. Although it's more common among older adults, overactive bladder is not a normal part of aging. Now in his early 70s, Dublin-based John was just 46 when he first developed the OAB symptoms of urgency, frequency and nocturia (waking often during the night to urinate).
“I worked as a company executive and was often on the road; frequent pit stops were the order of the day. I had a mental map of where all the rest rooms were,” he says.
“At the time my GP referred me to a consultant who performed a two-step surgical procedure in which my urethra was dilated and my bladder stretched. It was thought that I might have a small bladder and the sum result of the surgery should have been less frequency afterwards, but it really didn’t help. With OAB, the bladder doesn’t have to be full for the urge to urinate to be there.
“I’m fortunate enough; my symptoms are mild during the day. I’m up and about so it’s just a case of finding a bathroom when I feel the urge. But at night it can be a bit disruptive, waking up two or three times to go to the toilet. It doesn’t matter whether I don’t drink after 6 o’clock in the evening or whether I do, I’m still rising at night. It’s an inconvenience more than anything else,” says John, who hails from Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin.
After more than two decades living with OAB, he is keenly aware of certain triggers and carbonated drinks are top of the list. “I’m not an alcohol drinker, I love a Coke or a Fanta, but these drinks are just lethal to me. Water is probably the best,” he adds.
John says that occasionally being in a situation that puts him on edge can trigger the urgency to urinate. “There is some element of nervousness about it, if I was waiting to see a doctor for example I’d probably start feeling the urge. Having said that, sometimes when something else takes over mentally it can actually distract you and the urge lessens.
“I can’t remember more than once in the last 25 years not having to get up at night. The only way it disrupts me in the daytime is if I’m going somewhere I need to know there’s a bathroom on the way, and I’d be very reluctant to take a long bus journey.
“I’m not obsessive about it,” he stresses. “I could empty my bladder before I leave the house but before long the urge will be there again. It’s not severe but it’s there. I can still make it to the bathroom on time.”
John adds that his OAB hasn’t adversely impacted on family life or relationships. “My wife is a nurse and she’s the one I talk to about this. Although I never really felt the need to discuss it with other people, perhaps if it were more severe I would have. When you compare it to things like cancer or other serious conditions, it’s very minor really but it’s annoying, that’s the best word to describe it. It is what it is, and it hasn’t gone away.”
Philip's Story“I haven’t really spoken about my problem with other people, probably because I’d know more about it since I’ve had it a while. I’d like to find out more about it though”
Going for a pint after work is great way to unwind and relax with colleagues and friends, particularly if your office is located in a vibrant area of Dublin’s city centre. Philip* always enjoyed this end-of-week outing but when he started experiencing the symptoms of Overactive Bladder (OAB) syndrome in his 40s these weekly socials stopped.
“I prefer not to go out drinking in the city anymore because it’s a long journey to get back home to Bray, if I was getting the bus especially. At least on the Dart you can get off at a stop and use the public toilet, although there aren’t a lot of them so you have know which stations have them,” says the 61-year-old. “Also, I use to drink beer or Guinness back then, whereas now if I’m having a drink I’ll have a red wine, there’s less volume that way.“
Philip, aged 61 and living in Bray, Co. Wicklow, recalls how his OAB symptoms first presented: “I needed to urinate frequently during the day and several times at night. When I did go to the toilet I didn't do much and soon after leaving the toilet I would feel like going again. I felt as if I just had a small amount to do but I needed to go again or else I would wet myself. I mentioned it to my doctor and he said it was a part of getting old."
“I tried holding on to it for as long as I could but I found that difficult, you can’t relax and do what you’re doing because you’re all the time thinking I need to go. It didn’t seem to do me any good anyway.”
Philip has developed some coping strategies that help him get through the day with his OAB. “Before leaving the house I always go to the toilet, I just got into the habit of doing that. If I’m some place else and I know there’s a toilet there I might just go again, even if I don’t really have the urge, just to save me looking for one after when I really need to go.“
Although the severity of Philip’s symptoms has improved a little over the years, he still wakes once or twice during the night to use the bathroom, and he finds that cold weather can worsen the urge to urinate.
“I haven’t really spoken about my problem with other people, probably because I’d know more about it since I’ve had it a while. I’d like to find out more about it though,” he adds.
*Interviewee’s name has been changed at his request.