Having an overactive bladder means the sudden and unstoppable urge to urinate. This medical condition can be embarrassing, as well as frustrating. There are several medications for overactive bladder. These drugs work by relaxing the bladder. They also often have central nervous system (CNS) side effects, which, according to Urology, “are especially worrisome and often exaggerated (more severe) in the elderly.” Now researchers at Loyola University Health System have used cognitive therapy as a natural — non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical — remedy to help sufferers manage urge urinary incontinence.
Medications for overactive bladder
The drugs used to treat overactive bladder include Detrol, Ditropan, Sanctura, Enablex, Oxytrol and VESIcare. These medications are *anticholinergics. Emedtv explains that these drugs all “work in essentially the same way: to decrease urgency, frequency, and urge incontinence. They block the nerve impulses to the bladder that cause it to contract and leak.”
Common side effects of drugs for urinary incontinence include constipation, headache, blurred vision and dry mouth. According to the Urology study, two of these drugs (oxybutynin and tolterodine) caused “a significant reduction in REM sleep (approximately 15%) and a slightly (but not significantly) greater REM latency (“latency” refers to how long after sleep onset it takes to fall into REM-stage sleep).” Moreover, the reduction in REM sleep occurred more prominently in people over the age of 50.
More sleep problems on top of having an overactive bladder? No thanks. That’s not a trade-off most people would make if they had another approach to try first. Fortunately, there is another approach: cognitive therapy, which uses the brain, rather than drugs, to “block” the nerve impulses to the bladder.
Using the mind-body connection
Instead of blocking nerve impulses sent from the brain to the bladder, what if you could train the brain to hold back those nerve impulses in the first place?
That’s exactly what Loyola University Health System (LUHS) physicians aimed for when they helped patients use cognitive therapy to relax the bladder and, thus, reduce urinary incontinence. One of the LUHS researchers, Aaron Michelfelder, MD, stated their work showed that tapping into the mind-body connection is “particularly valuable for women suffering from incontinence.”
In the LUHS study, patients received an in-office introduction to cognitive therapy. Then they used an audio meditation guide at home twice a week. The guide included several visualization and relaxation exercises. The patients had a significant reduction in incontinence incidents — an average decrease from 38 to 12 episodes per week. That’s something to cheer about! And that means cognitive therapy can be a very valuable part of a comprehensive approach to the problems of overactive bladder, including urgency, frequency and urge incontinence.
Audio meditation guides and bladder relaxation techniques
It may be that the LUHS study used relaxation and visualization exercises that were specific to the process that results in overactive bladder. However, all meditation techniques fundamentally strive for the same impact: changing (often, toning down) the brain’s response to mental, emotional and physical stimuli. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if even somewhat general meditation practices could train the brain and use the mind-body connection to help relax the bladder.
Meditation, and other forms of guided relaxation and visualization techniques, is now more accessible than ever, thanks to the internet. Many online sources on meditation and relaxation techniques even offer free tutorials and downloads. In fact, it’s easy to design and create your own personal “portable relaxation coach” using free downloads to your iPOD, MP3 or other audio file player. You may just find that the mind is key to one of the best and safest natural remedies for overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.
More B.A. Rogers: Meditation and MP3s: the Portable Relaxation Coach that Contributes to Wellness, Stress Relief and Pain Management .
Dae Kyung Kim, MD and Michael B Chancellor, MD, “What is the Effect of Overactive Bladder Medication on Sleep?,” Pub Med Central, National Institutes of Health.
“Meditate Your Way to Better Bladder Health,” Science Daily.
“Medications for Overactive Bladder,” Emedtv.