Mal, age 78, had bladder problems for many years. He had to go through a few years of unnecessary treatment because his overactive bladder was originally diagnosed as an enlarged prostate. He finally got relief with medications and self-catheterization. Mal thinks that when men have difficulty with their bladders, it can be a challenge for doctors to diagnose, so it is important to seek the best medical advice.

By As told to: Tammy Worth
Updated February 29, 2016

Getty ImagesOver the years, I've had what were really undiagnosed issues affecting my incontinence and bladder problems. I sensed there was something a little different about me—that most people had the ability to hold urine in or get rid of it with longer periods of time in between than I did.

But you get used to these things after a while and don't think much about them. I thought it was a quirk or peculiarity of mine. It seemed like a benign thing that just differentiated me from someone else. I didn't care because it didn't seem important and was more annoying than serious.

Then, about 15 years ago, I went to a urologist because the problem was getting much more intrusive. The doctor—who I think now was pretty pro-surgery—said that if I was having a problem excreting urine, it must be the result of an enlarged prostate.

I had a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), which is an operation that trims away excess prostate tissue constricting the urethra. Unfortunately, I continued to experience urination problems.

At that point, the doctor put me on Urecholine, which is used to help with urination and emptying of the bladder. It is a difficult medication. You have to take it on an empty stomach and get the dosage exactly right. I was experiencing all kinds of side effects like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and indigestion. I discontinued taking it.

Although I may have needed the TURP surgery, it was clear that I had a parallel problem that was unsolved. The doctor diagnosed me at that point with an atonic bladder, which is sometimes also referred to as a decompensated, acontractile, or “pooped” bladder by urologists. He said my bladder had basically lost much of its muscle tone and couldn't contract effectively to perform the normal elimination process.

So, about seven years ago, I began performing self-catheterization, mainly in the evening as a way to get sleep. My biggest problem was at night; I was constantly getting up with the urge to go and almost needed to be tethered to a toilet.

Self-catheterization is the best treatment I've had in a long time. When I got the hang of it, I was able to have a good night's sleep without constant interruption for the first time in years. It has dramatically helped me in terms of my sleep, and I believe that it has also improved my overall bladder health. To this day, this treatment has been the most useful benefit for my quality of life.

Along with the self-catheterization, I take Detrol, a medication that is supposed to help diminish the sense of urgency; Hytrin, which while originally used to treat high blood pressure, also reduces constriction of the urethra to help facilitate urination; and Proscar, which works to help shrink the prostate.

My medications take care of my daytime needs, so the issue doesn't intrude into my daily life. I am much, much more fortunate than many people in that respect.

It has really been a journey for me in terms of figuring out what was wrong and how to deal with it appropriately. And now I handle my condition as well as I can. We really do learn from all our experiences in life—even the ones that actually proved to be less than helpful.

I am active on forums for overactive bladder. I tell people with this condition that they need to get the best medical advice they can and that the world doesn't end when you have these problems.