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Navigating the Care Pathway for Overactive Bladder and Incontinence

A comprehensive treatment plan for overactive bladder and incontinence is essential for improvement in bladder leaks. Learn how to navigate a care pathway for overactive bladder and incontinence, from behavioral modifications to medications or even surgery, for optimal management.

If you’ve ever received treatment for a specific health condition, chances are your doctor has consulted a care pathway as part of your treatment plan. A care pathway is a structured approach to healthcare that outlines the steps involved in managing a condition or addressing a particular health concern. It serves as a roadmap for both healthcare providers and patients, guiding them through the various stages of treatment and ensuring continuity of care.

In the case of overactive bladder (OAB) and incontinence, a well-designed care pathway is crucial to providing effective management and improving the quality of life for patients. This article explores the general concept of a care pathway and delves into the specifics of managing OAB and incontinence, highlighting the range of treatments available at different stages.

Understanding a Care Pathway

A care pathway, also known as a clinical pathway or care plan, is a multidisciplinary tool that outlines the recommended interventions and actions for managing a specific medical condition. It provides a systematic approach to care delivery, promoting consistency and standardization in treatment decisions. Care pathways are typically developed collaboratively by healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and specialists. Most conditions that are treated by a physician have care pathways in place. Knowing a good standard of practice, and understanding what’s worked for other patients is helpful when a doctor prescribes treatment.

A care pathway that’s specific to OAB and incontinence aims to address the symptoms, underlying causes, and associated impacts on patients’ lives. Like many treatment plans, it begins with non-invasive and conservative approaches and progresses to more advanced treatments based on the patient’s response and individual needs.

Below we’ll take a closer look at the different steps along a care pathway for overactive bladder. While this path isn’t always linear (many people will likely use absorbent products throughout their treatment, as an example), it serves as a great starting point for most people.

The Initial Stage: Behavioral Modifications

The first step in the care pathway for OAB and incontinence often involves implementing behavioral modifications. This stage focuses on empowering patients to take control of their symptoms through lifestyle changes and self-management techniques. Patients may focus on one aspect of care, or implement a more holistic approach, trying several of these changes at once. Here are some common strategies employed:

  • Diet modifications. Certain foods and beverages, such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners, can exacerbate OAB symptoms. Patients may be advised to avoid or limit their intake of these substances to alleviate symptoms. 
  • Pelvic floor exercises. Also known as Kegel exercises, these target the muscles supporting the bladder and urethra. Strengthening these muscles can enhance bladder control and reduce urinary leakage.
  • Bladder retraining. This technique involves gradually increasing the time intervals between visits to the restroom. By extending the time between voids, the bladder can regain its ability to hold urine and reduce the frequency of urgency.
  • Physical therapy. In some cases, physical therapists with expertise in pelvic floor rehabilitation may be involved to guide patients through specialized exercises and techniques to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder control.

Absorbent Products: A Versatile Treatment Option

Absorbent products play a crucial role in managing urinary incontinence throughout the care pathway for OAB. They provide a practical solution for individuals experiencing mild to severe incontinence and offer a sense of security and confidence. The use of absorbent products may be appropriate at any stage of the care pathway, depending on the severity of symptoms and the patient’s response to other treatments.

There are various types of absorbent products available, including:

  • Disposable pads. These are suitable for individuals with light to moderate urinary leakage. They are discreet, comfortable, and designed to quickly absorb and lock away urine, keeping the skin dry and minimizing odors.
  • Adult absorbent underwear with tabs. These provide more extensive coverage and are designed for individuals with moderate to heavy urinary incontinence. Tabbed briefs offer increased absorbency and leakage protection, making them suitable for overnight use or extended periods of time.
  • Reusable absorbent underwear. These are similar to regular underwear but have built-in absorbent padding. They are designed for individuals who want a more discreet option without compromising on absorbency and protection. Reusable products are designed to be washed and re-worn, making them kind on the environment and potentially more cost-effective than disposable products.
  • Incontinence briefs or pull-ups. These are similar to traditional tabbed briefs and are suitable for individuals with severe urinary incontinence or limited mobility.

Choosing the right product for you may take some trial and error. But, finding a product that fits well, is comfortable and fits your lifestyle is essential to customer satisfaction.

Medications for Overactive Bladder (OAB)

In addition to behavioral modifications and absorbent products, medications are another important component of the care pathway for OAB. Medications aim to alleviate symptoms by targeting the underlying causes of OAB, such as bladder muscle overactivity or nerve signaling abnormalities. There are different types of medications available, and their selection depends on the patient’s specific needs and medical history. Here are some commonly prescribed medications for OAB:

  • Anticholinergic medications. Anticholinergic drugs, such as oxybutynin, tolterodine, and solifenacin, are the most commonly prescribed medications for OAB. They work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates bladder contractions. By relaxing the bladder muscles, anticholinergics can reduce urinary urgency, frequency, and incontinence episodes. These medications are available in various forms, including oral tablets, extended-release capsules, patches, and topical gels.
  • Beta-3 adrenergic agonists. Mirabegron is a medication in the class of beta-3 adrenergic agonists. It works by stimulating beta-3 receptors in the bladder, which relaxes the bladder muscle and increases the bladder’s storage capacity. Mirabegron is particularly useful for patients who cannot tolerate or do not respond well to anticholinergic medications. It is available in oral tablet form.
  • Combination medications. In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe a combination of an anticholinergic and a beta-3 adrenergic agonist medication to optimize symptom relief. This approach targets both the nerve signals and the bladder muscle to provide enhanced control over OAB symptoms.

It is important to note that medication effectiveness can vary among individuals, and there may be side effects associated with their use. Common side effects of anticholinergic medications include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, and drowsiness. Beta-3 adrenergic agonists may cause increased blood pressure or a rapid heartbeat in some individuals. It is crucial for patients to discuss any concerns or side effects with their healthcare provider to ensure the best course of treatment.

Medications are often used in conjunction with other treatment approaches, such as behavioral modifications and absorbent products, to provide comprehensive management of OAB symptoms. The choice to incorporate medications into the care pathway depends on the severity of symptoms, the patient’s response to other treatments, and individual preferences.

Advanced Treatment Options

More advanced treatment options may be considered for patients who do not achieve satisfactory results with behavioral modifications and medications. These treatments target the underlying causes of OAB and incontinence and aim to provide long-lasting relief. Some notably advanced treatments include:

  • Botox injections. Botulinum toxin type A injections into the bladder muscle can effectively relax the overactive muscles, reducing the urgency and frequency of urination. The effects typically last several months before additional injections are needed.
  • Sacral neuromodulation (SNM). SNM involves the placement of a small device near the sacral nerves, which regulate bladder function. The device delivers mild electrical impulses to modulate the nerve signals, helping to control OAB symptoms. SNM is often considered for patients who have not responded to other treatments or for those with specific neurological conditions affecting bladder control.
  • Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS). PTNS involves the insertion of a fine needle near the tibial nerve in the ankle. Mild electrical impulses are then delivered through the needle to stimulate the nerves involved in bladder control. PTNS is a non-invasive option that is typically performed in a clinic setting over several sessions.

Surgical Interventions

In cases where conservative treatments and advanced therapies have not provided satisfactory results, surgical interventions may be considered. Surgery aims to correct anatomical abnormalities, enhance bladder function, or alleviate the symptoms of OAB and incontinence. Some common surgical procedures include:

  • Bladder augmentation. This procedure involves enlarging the bladder by using a piece of the patient’s own bowel tissue or synthetic material. By increasing the bladder’s capacity, urgency and frequency of urination can be reduced.
  • Sling procedures. Sling surgeries involve placing a supportive sling or mesh under the urethra to provide additional support and improve urinary control. This can be particularly beneficial for people with stress urinary incontinence – a condition where you leak when an increase in pressure is placed on the bladder (from laughing, coughing, sneezing, working out, etc.)
  • Urinary diversion. In certain cases, when other treatments have failed, a urinary diversion may be considered. This procedure involves rerouting urine to bypass the bladder and create a new pathway for it to be eliminated. Urinary diversions are usually reserved for severe cases or when other treatment options are not viable.

Patient Education and Support

Throughout the care pathway, patient education and support play a vital role in empowering people to manage their conditions effectively. Understanding your diagnosis, treatment options, and the potential outcomes and side effects associated with each intervention can go a long way in determining the success of your treatment. Your doctor should provide guidance on self-care strategies, such as maintaining a bladder diary, managing fluid intake, and practicing pelvic floor exercises. (And if they don’t, ask them about it!)

Additionally, support groups and counseling services can offer valuable emotional support, allowing others with the same condition to share their experiences, learn from others, and gain insights into coping strategies. Peer support can significantly improve patients’ overall well-being and help them navigate the challenges associated with OAB and incontinence. (Check out NAFC’s free online message boards here and connect with others living with OAB and incontinence!)


A well-designed care pathway is essential for effectively managing overactive bladder and incontinence. Starting with conservative approaches, such as behavioral modifications, and progressing to more advanced treatments, the care pathway aims to alleviate symptoms, improve bladder control, and enhance the quality of life for patients. By providing a systematic approach, healthcare providers can tailor treatment plans to meet the specific needs of each patient, ensuring continuity of care and optimizing outcomes. As research continues to advance, it is crucial to stay informed about new treatment options and incorporate evidence-based practices into the care pathway, enabling individuals with OAB and incontinence to lead fulfilling lives with confidence and dignity.


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