Search icon


14th Jan 2020

Spot the difference – how do OAB and stress incontinence differ?


Brought to you by Astellas

Stress incontinence and overactive bladder are probably more common than you might think.

Both have some similarity in symptoms but the causes and management of each condition vary.

Stress incontinence occurs when the muscles that control our urine flow become weakened.

It can happen during physical activity, even when laughing, coughing, sneezing, lifting or even getting out of bed.

Our pelvic floor muscles are what control this, supporting our bladder, urethra and urinary sphincter. Pelvic floor muscles squeeze to prevent urine from leaking through the urethra.

However, when these muscles are weakened, a small amount of urine might leak out involuntarily. They can become weakened due to childbirth, injury to the area and surgery in the pelvic area.

These problems can increase around the time of menopause and thereafter.

Then there’s OAB (overactive bladder).

What is OAB?

OAB is a medical condition affecting the way our bladder behaves. It affects approximately 350,000 people over the age of 40 in Irelandwhile a quarter of people have a friend or family member that suffers from it.2

Fifty-two percent of those with OAB in Ireland are men and almost half (49 percent) of people with the condition are aged 35 to 64, while 37 percent are aged 18 to 34.3 Twenty percent of undiagnosed sufferers don’t go to their doctor because they don’t believe anything can be done to relieve symptoms.3

With OAB the bladder works overtime and it causes an involuntary and sudden contraction or squeezing of the muscle in the wall of the bladder, even if the volume of urine in the bladder is quite low.

The bladder muscles seem to give the brain the wrong message causing the bladder to feel fuller than it is. It’s this involuntary contraction that creates the urgent need to urinate, leaving a person with OAB much less control over when their bladder contracts to pass urine.

Many people tolerate its symptoms and these are highly disruptive to their daily lives.

What are the symptoms?

The contractions are what cause the symptoms of OAB. Having a sense of urgency to pass urine, frequently needing to use the toilet (eight or more times a day, two or more times at night) and in some cases accidental leakage due to not reaching a toilet on time.

There’s also urge incontinence, which means a person might be able to make it to the toilet on time but may also urgently need to urinate and may make frequent trips to the bathroom. Still, these unexpected trips to the toilet, day and night, can really have an effect on a person’s life. In time, OAB could occur after this.


Although the exact cause of the involuntary contractions associated with OAB is unknown, it’s so important that those suffering from OAB know that they don’t have to tolerate daily disruptions that can cause a negative impact on their everyday lives.

There’s no need to feel embarrassed about this common condition either. Help is there, in the form of advice, bladder training, pelvic floor exercises and medication. Plus, with this help, you’ll realise you can take back control and feel a whole lot more confident in no time.

Visit and make a visit to your GP.

Brought to you by Astellas

The 2019 #InControl national campaign has been launched by Astellas to improve public awareness of the medical condition overactive bladder (OAB) and encourage more women and men aged 40+ in Ireland to stop tolerating the daily disruption of OAB symptoms. For more information about OAB, visit or consult your local GP.

1. Source: Milsom et al. How Widespread are the Symptoms of OAB? BJU Intl. 2001; 87: 760-766
2. Source: Astellas / iReach Overactive Bladder (OAB) National Representative Study August 2019
3. Source: ‘Astellas Understanding the OAB patient journey – Ireland country report December 2017’. Research conducted by Astellas and Incite in 2017