Living with an overactive bladder: ‘I was feeling so degraded and embarrassed’

Tim Harvey
OAB getty 300x225 Living with an overactive bladder: I was feeling so degraded and embarrassed

(Getty Images)

Approximately 7 million people in the UK are affected by an overactive bladder, the condition can be embarrassing and prevent people from talking to their doctor about it.

According to a new survey from Astellas and the Bladder & Bowel Foundation 80 per cent of adults agree wetting themselves in public is the most embarrassing thing that could happen to them.

Tim Harvey who suffers from OAB shares his experiences about the condition.

I can remember as a small child at school, that I was the one who constantly needed the toilet during lessons. Even family outings were interrupted by my trips to the toilet, it never occurred to anyone that it could be anything else – I just took after my grandmother with a weak bladder.

During my early childhood and into my teens, I only experienced OAB symptoms, such as frequent and urgent need to go to the toilet throughout the day. However my symptoms started to change as I reached my late twenties, when it started to interrupt my sleep and I started to wet the bed. For 10 years I was just too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it. How could a man in his thirties say he’s wetting the bed? My wife eventually persuaded me to seek help.

My GP referred me to a urologist, however in those days the words Overactive Bladder or OAB were not mentioned. Although the treatment helped during the day for five or six years, I was still wetting the bed two or three times a week. So I just carried on, adapting my life so that I could cope with my condition. By the time I reached my early forties, OAB started to impact on my life 24 hours a day, I was now having almost nightly accidents. It was starting to affect me both physically and mentally, I was feeling so degraded and embarrassed.

I work for the Highways Agency and my job involves spending long hours on the road with sometimes limited access to toilets, and it was only then that I began to realise living like this wasn’t right. None of my colleagues needed the loo as regularly as I did and the frequent toilet breaks were disrupting my job. I was only half-concentrating because I was so concerned that I would leak in public. I was becoming increasingly embarrassed and ashamed of my condition.

It was whilst clearing debris from the motorway, I felt I needed to go to the toilet, but I couldn’t hold on, so standing in front of the traffic, I wet myself. A female colleague who was a former nurse realised what was going on, and I because I was too embarrassed myself, she finally agreed that she would buy some adult pads (nappies) for me to wear during the day.

It still took me three attempts to see my GP but each time I cancelled at the last minute, I was too embarrassed to speak to a male GP. Eventually I booked an appointment with a female GP, finally I was able to open up, and all my feelings and emotions came pouring out. I was then referred to a urologist, where I tried many different treatments which unfortunately were not effective. If only I hadn’t “suffered in silence” and had gone to see my GP much earlier, the outcome may have been very different.

Tim Harvey is a Trustee of the Bladder and Bowel Foundation charity. is a patient awareness campaign sponsored by Astellas in partnership with the Bladder and Bowel Foundation.

The Independent received no payment for publication of this item.

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  • gregipoh

    Sorry- not a point about the main problem but a comment on female GPs: I also feel (as a man) much more comfortable in talking to a female GP than a man; the guys seem brusque and uninterested and I feel like they’re talking down to me. Probably also the women had to work a lot harder to qualify, so i feel they’re more knowledgeable.

  • Sculptor471

    At my doctors’ it is the other way round. The senior woman doctor was brusque and almost unhelpful. The two young male doctors are very open and discuss things in whatever detail I need. They even encourage me to read up on my condition/treatment on the web.

  • snozzle123

    I’ve found my male urologist pretty curt with a problem I have been having. Female GP’s I have seen have been pretty good though. These sorts of problems bring physiological issues that don’t come with say injuring your elbow, I’ve been confronted with the limits of my emotional resources and its very humbling.

  • Tom M

    Stay away from GPs and urologists. Just use pads and relax. Your condition is very common in both men and women. It’s more pronounced in cold weather or if you have to be outside in the cold for long periods. It’s perfectly natural. You are not ill and should not be seeking a “cure”.

  • Joree

    The website at the bottom of the article is sponsored by Astellas, a pharmaceutical company. This is part of their ‘awareness’ campaign, designed to sell more of their medication. Just so that we are aware – this article is an advertorial, not independent reporting. Like quite a lot more every day in the ‘Independent’. How much has the industry paid to get this article published here? Surely they don’t do that for free. It would suit the Independent to tell us who has paid for the article.

  • Jesus_Mohammed

    I don’t suffer from incontinence but from excessive frequency. This problem really only affects me when I’m visiting foreign cities. Within half an hour of leaving my hotel in the morning I’m desperate for a pee, so there’s then terrible anxiety until one is found, and unfortunately public toilets on the continent are rare.

    So I decided to test-run a urinary sheath and leg-bag, just for holiday purposes. I found the only satisfactory sheath is one which adheres (via sticky coating) to the shaft of the willy. (This sheath then ends in a funnel which joins to a pipe, which then travels down to the bag hanging from the calf.) The adhesive means that one is absolutely water-tight. One can release the pee even when sitting and there’s no chance of “reflux”, i.e. the pee getting into your underpants. The problem though is that the adhesive is so excellent that the condom-cum-funnel remains firmly attached to willy for six or seven days, despite long immersion in a hot bath every morning. So willy is effectively “on a leash”. He can’t play! A terrible Faustian bargain.

    So I’ve decided to put some hours into serious research as to the location of public toilets before leaving for holidays from now on and to mark them up on maps. There are Smartphone apps that show where loos are, but unfortunately not for all cities.

    If anyone else has got any ideas on how to cope with the “invisibility” and seeming non-existence of public toilets on the continent, I’d be glad to hear!

  • captainsubmarina

    Joree, despite the article being sponsored by Astellas, the story is still real. It’s something that happens to so many of us and quite frankly I rely on Astellas medicine to get me through the day in the comfort that the majority of people take for granted. I just don’t think it matters who sponsored this or who is advertising. If it’s making people who don’t suffer from OAB aware of the seriousness of the condition then that can only be a good thing. If you want to read further on the subject from an unsponsored source then please take a look at my blog

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