Last updated: Feb 03, 2011
My overactive bladder is brought on by multiple sclerosis, which I was diagnosed with over 25 years ago. A lot of people who have multiple sclerosis have bladder problems; in fact, a bladder issue can be an initial symptom of the disease.

I had to go to the bathroom all of the time and was getting some disastrous urinary tract infections. Urological tests revealed that I wasn't totally emptying my bladder. I couldn't; the MS didn't let me. My bladder really was always full, thus the constant feeling of bladder fullness and the need to go.

Because I couldn't completely empty, there was always a small amount of urine left in my bladder, and that residual amount was a breeding ground for infections.

A couple of times I had really bad infections. At one point, I ended up having a temperature of 106°, the sickest I've ever been in my life. It was a very scary time.

My uppity bladder ran my life. I knew where every bathroom was wherever I went. I had a 30-minute commute to work, and then had to walk a ways to get into my building, praying that I'd make it in time. I never made it through a meeting without a bathroom break. My discomfort was never ending. Once we figured out what was going on, I began taking medication. I eventually got to a daily dose of 30 milligrams of oxybutynin (Ditropan XL)—the highest dose is generally 15 milligrams. The drug quells involuntary bladder spasms, which I believe are a part of OAB whether or not a person has MS. I would be a sieve if I didn't take it; I wouldn't leave the house. I would need to be near a bathroom all of the time.

The downside to most oral bladder control drugs is the dry mouth or constipation that they often bring on, and I got dry mouth really badly. I switched to a topical form of the drug recently, and so far it's working well, with none of the wretched dry mouth. I still take 5 milligrams daily in pill form along with the topical dose.

The other way I manage my OAB is through intermittent self-catheterization. I have to use a catheter to empty that residual urine every time I go. When I started doing self-catheterization, I thought that someday I could stop doing it, but not so. I'll have to do this forever.

Using the catheter is initially hard to learn if you're a woman, but there are people to talk you through the process. Catheters are also cumbersome, a nuisance, and embarrassing to have around. However, I'd be in some trouble without them, so I also think of them as godsends.

Catheters are expensive too. When I first started cathing, I had to boil and reuse the same ones over and over. When I traveled, I had to find a place to boil catheters.

The good thing is that Medicare, like most insurance companies, now covers them, so I can use a catheter and toss it out, which is much better for sanitary reasons too.

Aside from the medicine and cathing, I try to drink a lot of water. It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to keep the system flushed. I also take cranberry pills and Vitamin C in the hopes of staving off urinary tract infections.

I don't have the discomfort of a constantly full bladder anymore, and I don't usually leak. I still have my issues: I wear protective underwear at night in case I have bladder spasms while sleeping. I still get urinary tract infections periodically, but they are nowhere near as severe as they used to be.

The frequency has dramatically reduced. I can even be out for a whole evening and not have to locate the bathroom.

The bottom line is that I'm happy that my OAB can be controlled with medication and self-catheterization. It is infinitely better than the inconvenience, embarrassment, and pain of an unmanaged bladder.