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Overactive Bladder in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Overview of an Overactive Bladder (OAB) in Children

An overactive bladder (OAB) in children refers to a condition where the bladder muscle contracts involuntarily, leading to a frequent and intense urge to urinate. This urge may be difficult to control, often resulting in episodes of involuntary urine leakage, known as urinary incontinence. OAB can significantly impact a child’s daily life, causing embarrassment, social withdrawal, and disruptions in normal activities. (1,2)

While it is more commonly associated with adults, OAB can affect children of all ages, from toddlers to adolescents. The condition can have various underlying causes, such as anatomical abnormalities, neurological issues, urinary tract infections, or behavioral factors. (3)

An overactive bladder in children can lead to daytime accidents and a sudden, urgent need to urinate shortly after denying the need to go. However, it should not be confused with bed-wetting, which is more common in young children. OAB symptoms can disrupt a child’s daily routines and may impact their social and emotional development. Physical complications can include difficulty emptying the bladder completely, an increased risk of kidney damage, and urinary tract infections. (4)

In many cases, OAB improves over time, but there are treatments and at-home measures available to manage and support children with this condition.

Bladder Control in Children

The ability to control the bladder and achieve daytime urinary continence is a developmental milestone that varies from child to child. Most children begin to gain control over their bladder between the ages of two and four years. By the time children reach five years of age, the majority of them can manage their bladder and stay dry during the day.

However, it is important to remember that each child is different, and there is a wide range of what is considered normal. Some children may achieve bladder control earlier, while others may take a bit longer.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is typically not diagnosed until a child is five or six years old, and by the age of five, approximately 90 percent of children can control their urine during the day. Doctors may not diagnose nighttime urinary incontinence until a child is seven years old. Bed-wetting affects around 16 percent of 5-year-olds, and this percentage decreases as children grow older. About ten percent of seven-year-olds and one to two percent of 15-year-olds may still experience bed-wetting at night. (5)

Parents should be patient and understanding during the process of toilet training and avoid putting pressure on their child to achieve bladder control before they are developmentally ready.

What are the Symptoms of Overactive Bladder in Children?

The symptoms of overactive bladder (OAB) in children can vary but generally include:

  1. Frequent Urination: Children with OAB may urinate more frequently than usual, often with shorter intervals between bathroom visits.
  2. Urgent Need to Urinate: A strong and sudden urge to urinate, which can be difficult for the child to control, is a common symptom of OAB.
  3. Urinary Incontinence: OAB can lead to involuntary urine leakage, particularly if the child cannot reach the bathroom in time when experiencing a sudden urge to urinate.
  4. Nocturnal Enuresis: Some children with OAB may experience nighttime bed-wetting, which is not uncommon, especially in younger children.
  5. Struggling to Hold Urine: Children with OAB may have difficulty holding their urine, leading to accidents during daytime activities.
  6. Frequent Urges during Sleep: Children with OAB may experience frequent awakenings at night due to the urge to urinate.
  7. An Incomplete Feeling after Urinating: Children with OAB may feel like their bladder is not entirely empty even after urinating.

It is important to note that while these symptoms may indicate OAB, they can also be caused by other medical conditions or behavioral factors. If you suspect your child has OAB or if these symptoms persist, it is essential to consult a pediatrician or healthcare professional for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and appropriate management.

Causes of Overactive Bladder in Children

Overactive bladder (OAB) in children can have various underlying causes, and it may result from a combination of factors. Some common causes and contributing factors include:

  1. Developmental Factors: OAB can be related to the developmental stage of the child’s bladder control. In some cases, the bladder may be overly sensitive to signals from the brain, leading to frequent and strong contractions. (6)
  2. Neurological Issues: Problems with the nerves that control the bladder can lead to OAB in some children. Neurological conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injuries can affect bladder function.(7)
  3. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Infections in the urinary tract can irritate the bladder and cause OAB symptoms. (8)
  4. Constipation: Chronic constipation can put pressure on the bladder and affect its ability to hold urine, contributing to OAB.
  5. Anatomical Abnormalities: Structural issues in the urinary tract or bladder, such as a small bladder or obstruction, may lead to OAB. (9)
  6. Psychological Factors: Emotional stress or anxiety can sometimes contribute to OAB symptoms in children.
  7. Fluid and Diet: Drinking large amounts of fluid or consuming beverages with caffeine or artificial sweeteners can increase urinary frequency and exacerbate OAB symptoms.
  8. Genetics: There may be a genetic component to OAB, with a family history of the condition increasing the likelihood of its occurrence. (10)

It is important to note that in some cases, the exact cause of OAB in children may not be identifiable.

Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Children

The treatment of overactive bladder (OAB) in children depends on the underlying cause, the severity of the symptoms, and the child’s age and overall health. Here are some common approaches used to treat OAB in children:

  • Behavioral Therapies: Behavioral interventions are often the first line of treatment for OAB in children. These may include bladder training, where the child learns to delay urination and gradually increase the time between bathroom visits. Timed voiding schedules and fluid management strategies can also be employed to help regulate urinary habits.
  • Medications: In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications to help manage OAB symptoms. These medications may relax the bladder muscles or decrease the urge to urinate.
  • Management of Underlying Conditions: If OAB is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection or constipation, treating the underlying issue may alleviate the OAB symptoms.
  • Bladder Exercises: Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegel exercises, can help strengthen the muscles that control urination and improve bladder control.
  • Dietary and Fluid Management: Limiting or avoiding certain foods and drinks, such as caffeine or acidic beverages, that can irritate the bladder may help manage OAB symptoms.
  • Supportive Measures: Parents and caregivers can provide emotional support and encouragement to the child during the treatment process. They can also implement positive reinforcement strategies for successful bladder control.

In many cases, OAB tends to go away on its own as the child grows up and the body develops. It is essential for parents to work closely with pediatricians or healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the child’s specific needs. Treatment for OAB in children can be effective, and with patience and appropriate support, many children experience significant improvement in their bladder control and quality of life.


Managing overactive bladder (OAB) in children necessitates a holistic strategy, tailored to the child’s age, medical background, and distinct symptoms. Though OAB can be challenging for children and their caregivers alike, a multitude of effective treatments are at their disposal. Through targeted interventions and fostering a nurturing environment, numerous children can greatly enhance their bladder control, paving the way for an enriched quality of life.


  1. White, N. and Iglesia, C.B., 2016. Overactive bladder. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics, 43(1), pp.59-68.
  2. Wein, A.J. and Rovner, E.S., 2002. Definition and epidemiology of overactive bladder. Urology, 60(5), pp.7-12.
  3. Franco, I., 2016. Overactive bladder in children. Nature Reviews Urology, 13(9), pp.520-532.
  4. Franco, I., 2007. Overactive bladder in children. Part 1: Pathophysiology. The Journal of urology, 178(3), pp.761-768.
  5. Definition & Facts for Bladder Control Problems & Bedwetting in children – niddk (no date) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems-bedwetting-children/definition-facts (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
  6. Bauer, S.B., 2002. Special considerations of the overactive bladder in children. Urology, 60(5), pp.43-48.
  7. Curran, M.J., Kaefer, M., PETERS, C., LOGIGIAN, E. and Bauer, S.B., 2000. The overactive bladder in childhood: long-term results with conservative management. The Journal of urology, 163(2), pp.574-577.
  8. Gondim, R., Azevedo, R., Braga, A.A.N.M., Veiga, M.L. and Barroso Jr, U., 2018. Risk factors for urinary tract infection in children with urinary urgency. International braz j urol, 44, pp.378-383.
  9. Franco, I., 2007. Pediatric overactive bladder syndrome: pathophysiology and management. Pediatric Drugs, 9, pp.379-390.
  10. Cartwright, R., Afshan, I., Derpapas, A., Vijaya, G. and Khullar, V., 2011. Novel biomarkers for overactive bladder. Nature Reviews Urology, 8(3), pp.139-145.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 10, 2023

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