ANNOUNCER: For the millions of Americans who have problems with bladder control, day to day living can be fraught with risk.
JULIA ROJAS: I play tennis, and one day I was at the court playing with some friends, and before I realized, I hit the ball and I had a discharge of urine, and I just -- I just could not believe that that could happen like that. That was very embarrassing.
ANNOUNCER: Many people think incontinence is a normal part of aging, and try to adjust their lives to cope with their new problem.
THERESA ROCHE: Well, when I found out that I had this problem, then I had to change the way I did things. And of course, if I was going to be out in the park walking, I knew I had to wear a depends. And if I was going some place to the supermarket, I knew every bathroom in every supermarket.
ANNOUNCER: Even for people who don't suffer from incontinence but urinate too frequently can find their lives changed.
JUDY SANDWELL: One of the things my boyfriend and I love doing is going hiking. When you're on a long hike and you're constantly worried about going to the bathroom, it's a real problem, and I know that it did prevent me from going out a lot, so I really had to cut back on that.
ANNOUNCER: But incontinence and excessive urination are not something you have to live with. In fact, they're often caused by an abnormal condition called overactive bladder.
ERIC ROVNER, MD; There are between 17 and 35 million Americans with overactive bladder and urinary symptoms of that nature. That's roughly between 10 and 25 and even 35% of adult Americans.
JUDY SANDWELL: I was at my gynecologist last year, and I picked up a leaflet that talked about, you know, this problem of frequency. And I suddenly became aware that there was-that it wasn't necessarily part of getting older, there was something I could do about it.
ANNOUNCER: If you're concerned about your bladder control, Judy Sandwell says a good first step is to take note of your urination patterns throughout the day.
JUDY SANDWELL: I decided I should have some data to provide my doctor with, to talk about it, concretely. And that's exactly what I did. I created a little diary, and put down the times, and tried to keep track of the amount of fluid I drank. And I think he appreciated that.
ANNOUNCER: Diagnosis often involves a simple pressure test called urodynamics.
JULIA ROJAS: I was a little skeptical about it, because I thought that it may hurt, I'd be uncomfortable, but it wasn't. He performed the test, and he immediately was able to diagnose what the situation was.
ANNOUNCER: Treatments for overactive bladder range from behavioral changes like lowering caffeine and alcohol intake to kegel exercises that strengthen the bladder muscles to a number of oral medications doctors can prescribe.
PHIL HANNO, MD: Medicines we use include tolterodine, which is sold as Detrol, and oxybutynin, which is sold as Ditropan. They tend to allow the bladder to hold more fluid, and as the bladder can hold more urine, the patient doesn't have to void as often.
THERESA ROCHE: Since I've been taking medication, I don't have to get up at night at all. And that's a wonderful thing. I go to bed and I sleep the whole night through and get a good night's sleep and I don't have to jump up at night and rush to the bathroom.
ANNOUNCER: The possible side effects of these medications include dry mouth, constipation and headache. But for most, these are minor concerns compared to the relief of overcoming overactive bladder.
JUDY SANDWELL: Well I take my medication once a day. I found I was waking up at nighttime with very dry mouth. What I discovered is that, if I take it in the middle of the day, it's better for me than taking it at night, because if I do take it in the day and my mouth gets dry, it's very easy then for me to take a glass of water.
ANNOUNCER: The bottom line is that diet, exercise and medications can all help you overcome this condition. .
ERIC ROVNER, MD: Patients suffering from symptoms of overactive bladder should see their physician. Patients need to recognize that their symptoms are treatable, that their quality of life can improve.
JUDY SANDWELL: I do think it's worth putting up with a little bit of embarrassment just to help yourself and to get through it because there's such a difference. I truly believe if you go to a doctor and talk about these problems that you can really make a difference in your own life.