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Overactive bladder in children

Overactive bladder causes an unplanned release of urine. This form of urinary incontinence is more common in adults, but can also affect children.

A child with an overactive bladder will need to urinate frequently, as many as eight or more times a day. Sometimes this will be urgent and they may not get to the toilet before the urine begins to flow.

What causes overactive bladder in children?

Children with overactive bladders have a need to urinate more often than usual because their bladder muscles have uncontrollable spasms. The muscles surrounding the urethra -- the tube that urine from the bladder passes through -- can be affected. These muscles are meant to prevent urine from leaving the body, but they may be "overridden" if the bladder undergoes a strong contraction.

Urinary tract infections can also cause a need to urinate as the urinary tract becomes inflamed and uncomfortable.

Certain neurological conditions may also cause these symptoms.

Another cause of overactive bladder is a condition called pollakiuria, or frequent daytime urination syndrome. Children who have pollakiuria urinate frequently. In some cases, they may urinate every five to ten minutes or urinate between 10 and 30 times a day. This condition is most common among children aged between three and eight and is only present during waking hours. There are no other symptoms present. Doctors believe that pollakiuria is related to stress. Usually, the condition goes away after two to three weeks without requiring treatment.

Other causes for overactive bladder in children include:

  • Consumption of caffeine, which increases urine output and can cause spasms in the bladder muscle
  • Consumption of ingredients that a child may be allergic to
  • Events that cause anxiety
  • Infrequent urination (holding urine for too long)
  • Small bladder capacity
  • Structural abnormalities in the bladder or urethra
  • Constipation

How is overactive bladder treated in children?

In most cases, children outgrow the problem of overactive bladder. For each year after the age of five, the number of overactive bladder cases declines by 15%. The child may learn to respond in a more timely manner to their body's signals to urinate, or bladder capacity may increase over time. In addition, overactive bladders can 'settle down', often when stressful events or experiences have ended.

If the child does not outgrow the condition, treatments can include bladder training and medication. In bladder training, the child uses exercises to strengthen and coordinate the urethra and bladder muscles to control urination. Such exercises teach the child to prevent urinating when away from the toilet and to anticipate the urge to urinate. Additional techniques to help overactive bladder include:

  • Avoiding caffeine or other ingredients that may encourage overactive bladder
  • Using timed voiding, or urinating on a schedule -- for example, every two hours
  • Adopting healthy urination habits, such as taking enough time to urinate and relaxing muscles during urination.
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