Overactive Bladder vs. Urinary Incontinence vs. UTI | Uqora
8 min read | July 03, 24

What’s the Difference Between Overactive Bladder, Urinary Incontinence & UTI?

Medically Reviewed by: Heather Ott

Written by: Sareena Rama

Article summary

Overactive bladder, urinary incontinence, and UTIs are three different urinary health issues that share similar symptoms. Even though they all impact the urinary system, they're actually quite different, and treatment varies depending on diagnosis.

What’s the Difference Between Overactive Bladder, Urinary Incontinence & UTI?

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Dealing with any urinary health related discomfort can be frustrating, especially when it feels unclear what your symptoms may indicate for your health. This resource was created to help guide you in your research of the difference between overactive bladder, urinary incontinence, and UTIs.

If you're constantly feeling the urge to rush to the bathroom, dealing with an unexpected leaky bladder, or experiencing discomfort when urinating, these symptoms could indicate three common urinary health issues: overactive bladder (OAB), urinary incontinence (UI), urinary tract infections (UTIs). While each urinary tract health condition can disrupt your daily life, understanding their differences is crucial for seeking the right treatment. 

Although our guide can support you in understanding the differences between each of these conditions – you should always discuss your symptoms with a doctor and never self-diagnose or self-treat. Understanding the differences between overactive bladder vs. urinary incontinence vs. UTIs can help you pinpoint the underlying cause and seek appropriate medical guidance. 

In this article, our team of experts did the research for you to help you explore each of these urinary health concerns, their symptoms, causes, and typical treatment options.

Females have a higher incidence of UTIs, OAB, and UI than males

Overactive Bladder (OAB)

If you're constantly rushing to the bathroom, you might be dealing with an overactive bladder (OAB). This condition is marked by an intense and sudden urge to urinate, often resulting in frequent trips to the restroom, even when the bladder isn't full(1,2)


Signs of overactive bladder include:

  • Intense and sudden urge to urinate: You may experience an intense need to urinate that comes on suddenly and can be difficult to ignore, often leading to a rush to the restroom. 
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom: People with OAB may find themselves making frequent visits to the bathroom throughout the day, sometimes even without much urine to pass. Normal urinary frequency is about seven times per day during waking hours, so if you're going more than that, it could indicate a potential problem. 
  • Waking up in the middle of the night to urinate: OAB can disrupt sleep patterns, causing individuals to wake up throughout the night to urinate(1,2).


Various factors can contribute to the development of OAB, including bladder muscle dysfunction, age, and nerve problems. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, bladder stones, or neurological disorders, can also trigger OAB symptoms. 

Additionally, lifestyle factors like excessive caffeine consumption (more than 400 mg/day), urinary tract infections (UTIs), or medications can worsen OAB symptoms(1,2).

Treatment Options

Managing OAB typically involves a combination of lifestyle and behavioral changes and, in some cases, medication or medical procedures. Behavioral techniques like bladder training and pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen bladder control and reduce urinary urgency(1)

Meanwhile, medications may be prescribed to help relax the bladder muscles and alleviate symptoms. In more severe cases, medical interventions like nerve stimulation may be considered to control the nerves and improve bladder function(1,2).

Treatment options will be discussed with your doctor after you work together to evaluate the potential causes of each individual’s experience with OAB.

How to Reduce Risk

While some risk factors for OAB are beyond your control, like age and certain medical conditions, incorporating some lifestyle changes could help reduce your risk of developing OAB.

Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption and practicing pelvic floor exercises can all contribute to bladder health. Additionally, managing existing underlying health conditions that may worsen or contribute to the development of OAB can help reduce your risk(1).

Urinary Incontinence (UI)

Urinary incontinence can be an extremely disruptive condition as this means you are experiencing an involuntary leakage of urine(3,4).


While there are different types and causes of incontinence, they all share the same symptom: involuntary urine leakage. Some people may have minor, occasional leaks, while others might experience more frequent small to moderate leaks(3,4).

Here are the different types of urinary incontinence(3):

  • Stress Incontinence: This type occurs when urine leaks due to pressure on the bladder from activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, or lifting heavy objects.
  • Urge Incontinence: This involves a sudden, intense need to urinate followed by involuntary urine loss. It often includes frequent urination, even at night. Causes can range from minor issues, such as infections, to more serious conditions like neurological disorders or diabetes.
  • Overflow Incontinence: This happens when the bladder doesn't empty completely, leading to frequent or constant dribbling of urine.
  • Functional Incontinence: This occurs when a physical or mental impairment, such as severe arthritis, prevents someone from reaching the toilet in time.
  • Mixed Incontinence: This refers to experiencing multiple types of incontinence, most commonly a combination of stress and urge incontinence.


Like OAB, there are several potential causes of urinary incontinence. Generally, there are short-term and long-term causes. Remember, none of these causes are because you’re doing something wrong. Urinary health is not talked about enough, so we’re all here to support you as you navigate this journey!

Short-term causes include: 

  • Urinary tract infections: UTIs can irritate the bladder and urethra, leading to symptoms of urgency and incontinence. 
  • Constipation: Constipation can lead to urinary incontinence since the rectum and bladder share many nerves. When stool becomes hard and compacted in the rectum, it can overstimulate these nerves, causing increased urinary frequency.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics, sedatives, or muscle relaxants, can affect bladder function and contribute to urinary incontinence as a side effect. 
  • Excessive fluid intake: Drinking large amounts of fluids, especially caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, can increase urine production and worsen incontinence symptoms(3,4).

Long-term causes of UI include: 

  • Pelvic floor weakness: Weakened pelvic floor muscles can result in decreased bladder control and urinary leakage. 
  • Neurological disorders: Conditions like multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries can affect nerve signals between the brain and the bladder, leading to incontinence. 
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, particularly during pregnancy, or menopause, can affect bladder function and contribute to incontinence.
  • Prostate issues: Due to an enlarged prostate or cancer, males can also experience urinary incontinence(3).

Treatment Options

Urinary incontinence treatment depends on what may be causing it and the symptoms you're experiencing. You and your doctor can work together to assess the best treatment options for you. Behavioral therapies like bladder training and pelvic floor exercises are often recommended to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder control. 

In some cases, medications may be prescribed to reduce urgency. In more severe cases, your healthcare provider might recommend surgical interventions like sling procedures or artificial urinary sphincter implants to provide additional support to the bladder and urethra(3).

How to Reduce Risk

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits and being proactive can help reduce the risk of developing UI. Maintaining your healthy weight, staying active, and avoiding tobacco use could also contribute to better bladder health. 

Additionally, managing chronic conditions and the longer-term causes of UI could improve outcomes(3,4).

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infections are bacterial infections that can affect any part of the urinary system. These infections can cause extreme discomfort and inconvenience but they can be treated with antibiotics and possibly prevented with proactive measures(5,6).


UTIs can present with various symptoms, which may include: 

  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating: This is often one of the earliest and most common signs of a UTI. 
  • Frequent urge to urinate: Individuals with UTIs may feel the need to urinate more frequently than usual, even when their bladder isn't full. 
  • Cloudy, foul-smelling urine: Urine may appear cloudy or have a strong odor, indicating the presence of infection. 
  • Lower abdominal discomfort: Some people may experience pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, often around the bladder. 
  • Blood in the urine: UTIs can sometimes cause blood to appear in the urine, giving it a pinkish or reddish color(5,6)


UTIs are caused by bacteria, typically E. coli, entering the urinary system and multiplying, leading to infection. While anyone can get a UTI, they are more common in females due to their shorter urethra and the close proximity of the urethral opening to the anus(5,6).

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, most UTIs don’t go away on their own. Currently, the only treatment option for UTIs is antibiotics, which eliminates the bacterial infection. The correct antibiotics must be prescribed after proper evaluation and testing. This is imperative to ensure you receive the correct type of antibiotic for the type of infection you may be experiencing. The prescription will depend on the severity of the UTI, the type of bacteria involved, and any underlying medical conditions(5,6).

In addition to antibiotics, your healthcare provider will recommend drinking plenty of water and urinating frequently to help flush out bacteria(5,6).

Learn more about the relationship between UTIs and hydration.

How to reduce UTI risk

By getting proactive about urinary health, you can potentially reducing the risk of a future UTI.Some tips for reducing the risk of UTIs include: 

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking adequate water daily helps flush bacteria from the urinary tract.
  • Maintain good urinary health habits: Urinate frequently and completely to prevent bacteria buildup in the bladder. Never hold your urine for a long period of time. If you feel the need to go, go. 
  • Practice good hygiene: We know you’ve heard this one before but it’s always a good reminder! After urinating, wipe from front to back. This prevents bacteria from entering the urinary tract and vagina. Additionally, urinate before and after sex to help flush out bacteria.(5,6)
  • Track your triggers: If you’re dealing with the cycle of recurrent UTIs, tracking when your UTIs typically come back can help you identify what may be causing them. Then, you can begin to take extra proactive measures in mitigating the risk of UTIs.

Key Differences Between OAB, UI, and UTI

OAB, UI, and UTIs share similar symptoms, but they're each unique. 

Overactive Bladder

OAB is characterized by a sudden, compelling urge to urinate, often leading to frequent trips to the bathroom even when the bladder isn't full. This can be caused by factors such as bladder muscle dysfunction, nerve complications, or underlying medical conditions. 

Urinary Incontinence

UI is the involuntary leakage of urine, which can occur during various activities like coughing or exercising. The common causes of urinary incontinence include weakened pelvic floor muscles, hormones, nerve damage, infections, and certain medical conditions. If you have OAB, you may also experience urinary incontinence as a symptom.

Urinary Tract Infections

UTIs are bacterial infections that cause symptoms like pain or burning during urination. They most commonly affect the bladder but can also involve the kidneys, ureters, and urethra. Treatment typically involves antibiotics, which eliminates the bacteria, helping to alleviate symptoms.

Graphic of chart comparing the differences between OAB, urinary incontinence, and UTI

When to Seek Medical Help 

Seeking medical help for urinary issues is crucial for early detection and effective treatment.

Fast medical intervention can alleviate symptoms and ensure that the infection does not worsen or progress. With treatment, individuals can manage their symptoms and help avoid any complications associated with untreated urinary health conditions. Additionally, certain urinary health concerns, like UTIs, can progress to more severe infections if left untreated. Getting medical treatment can help prevent these complications and promote faster recovery. 

Because symptoms of OAB, UI, and UTIs can overlap and may indicate different underlying health issues, you should never self-diagnose. Only a healthcare provider can accurately diagnose and treat health concerns. 

OAB vs. UI vs. UTI: Frequently Asked Questions

Is urinary incontinence the same as overactive bladder?

Urinary incontinence and overactive bladder both impact urinary system function but are not identical conditions. While OAB can cause urinary incontinence, they have different characteristics. 

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine, while OAB is a syndrome characterized by urinary urgency, which may or may not be accompanied by the symptom of incontinence, as well as other symptoms(3,4).

Can UTIs cause overactive bladder and urinary incontinence?

The symptoms of urinary tract infections can resemble those of overactive bladder and urinary incontinence. However, the relationship between these conditions is complex and not yet fully understood. Females with recurring UTIs often experience lower urinary tract dysfunction (LUTD), which means they might have trouble completely emptying their bladder and may feel a strong need to urinate frequently(8).

A study on recurrent UTIs found that despite receiving tailored treatments based on urinary dysfunction, only a small percentage of patients remained free from subsequent UTIs. A high percentage of females with recurrent UTIs showed signs of overactive bladder(8). This suggests a close relationship between OAB and recurrent UTIs. 

Who is most at risk for UTIs, OAB, and UI?

Some factors can increase the risk of developing UTIs, OAB, and UI. Females are particularly vulnerable to UTIs due to differences in anatomy, which make it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder(6). In fact, females have a higher incidence of UTIs, OAB, and UI than males(9,10,11)

Factors like age, lifestyle, and occupational demands can also influence the prevalence of UI. As individuals get older, the difference in UI rates between males and females becomes less pronounced(12). Or if your occupation does not allow for regular bathroom breaks. 


Sareena Rama manages Uqora’s Digital Content and is responsible for Uqora's social media, newsletters, and contributing articles to the UTI Learning Center.


Heather Ott is Uqora's Senior Health and Science Educator. She supports the team by writing Learning Center articles and reviewing all scientific communications.


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  2. Overactive bladder (OAB): Causes, symptoms & treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. From https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14248-overactive-bladder
  3. Urinary incontinence—Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. From https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence/symptoms-causes/syc-20352808
  4. Incontinence: Leakage, causes, diagnosis, treatment & prevention. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. From https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17596-urinary-incontinence
  5. Urinary tract infection (UTI)—Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. From https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447
  6. Urinary tract infection (UTI). (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. From https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9135-urinary-tract-infections
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  8. Ke, Q. S., Lee, C. L., & Kuo, H. C. (2020). Recurrent urinary tract infection in women and overactive bladder - Is there a relationship? Tzu chi medical journal, 33(1), 13–21. https://doi.org/10.4103/tcmj.tcmj_38_20
  9. Overactive bladder (OAB): Symptoms, diagnosis & treatment—Urology care foundation. (n.d.). From https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/o/overactive-bladder-(oab)
  10. Incontinence: Symptoms & treatment—Urology care foundation. (n.d.). From https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-incontinence
  11. Urinary tract infection(UTI): Symptoms, diagnosis & treatment—Urology care foundation. (n.d.). From https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-tract-infections-in-adults
  12. Yavuz, M., Etiler, N. Addressing urinary incontinence by gender: a nationwide population-based study in Turkiye. BMC Urol 23, 205 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12894-023-01388-2