COVID-19 vaccines for children: What are the side effects?

Vaccines undergo particularly rigorous safety tests before receiving approval for use in the general population. However, no drug is guaranteed to be free from side effects, so what are the side effects that children receiving the COVID-19 vaccine may face?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5–11 years on October 29, 2021. According to a recent survey by KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, just over one-quarter of parents of children in this age group are eager for their child to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Although this may be surprising, other survey findings shed some light on the reasons behind this hesitancy: a fear of side effects.

Two-thirds of parents of children of this age said that they were worried that the COVID-19 vaccine would affect their children’s future fertility. So significant are these concerns that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently put out a video disputing any potential impact of the vaccine on puberty or fertility.

Vaccine hesitancy is not just over fears of an impact on fertility, however. Over three-quarters of parents reported that they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that their child might experience serious side effects or that not enough is known about long-term effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.

So, what are the possible side effects?

What are children going to get?

In the same way that pharmaceutical companies raced to get the vaccine approved for adults, those companies have carried out trials to see if their vaccines are safe and effective in adolescents and children.

Speaking at an Independent SAGE briefing on November 5, 2021, Prof. Deenan Pillay — a professor of virology at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom — said:

“There have been a number of trials. We are always concerned about the untoward effect of all medicines in children, and, of course, we can’t just extrapolate from data that [come] from adults to children. We have got to wait to ensure there is safety in children. And now that has happened.”

So far, mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have received approval in the U.S. for children over 12 years of age, with the Pfizer vaccine approved for 5–12-year-olds at the end of October 2021.

The European Medicines Agency announced that it would start investigating the safety of the vaccine in that age group on October 18, 2021.

Most countries offering vaccination to those over 12 years of age are offering the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, Reuters recently reported. A single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is available for those over 12 years old in the U.K., where the Moderna vaccine also has approval for this age group.

Pfizer has plans to trial the vaccine in children aged 6 months to 5 years, and Moderna has ongoing trials to test the safety and efficacy of vaccines in children under 12 years old.

Novavax is about to start a study of up to 3,000 adolescents aged 12–17 years across up to 75 sites in the United States. Johnson & Johnson has enrolled children as young as 12 years into existing trials, and AstraZeneca is planning on conducting trials of its vaccine in children as young as 6 years.

The vaccine with the most evidence to support its use so far is Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, the vaccine doses given to children over the age of 12 years and those under the age of 12 years differ. Pfizer released data from its phase 2 and 3 trials at the end of September 2021. The data suggest that the vaccine was safe in children aged 5–11 years.

Children under the age of 12 years will be offered 10 micrograms (mcg) of the vaccine. This is compared with 30 mcg of the vaccine, which is the amount given to children over the age of 12 years and adults. Experts hope that this lower dose could result in fewer side effects, as lower doses generally should.

Minor adverse reactions

Senior vice president of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, Dr. Bill Gruber, broke down the drug company’s data from its phase 2 and 3 trials at the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting on October 26, 2021.

He revealed that there were very few serious adverse events and no deaths during the phase 2 and 3 trials of children aged 5–12 years. He also explained that the side effects were similar to those that adults experience.

The most common side effects in children after their second dose of the vaccine — first dose reactions were less frequent — were fatigue and headache, with 39.4% and 28% of 5–12-year-olds experiencing those symptoms, respectively.

This is compared with 65.6% and 60.9% of adults. Of note were data showing that fever and chills experienced after the vaccine were lower among 5–12-year-olds than among 12–65-year-olds.

Just 6.5% of children aged 5–12 years experienced fever after vaccination, compared with 17.2% of those over 12 years. Also, just 9.8% of those aged 5–12 years experienced chills, compared with 40% of those over 12 years.

Due to existing concerns about the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis among adolescent and young adult males, the scientists took specific precautions during this trial, Dr. Gruber explained to the committee.

He said: “To enhance possible detection of the rare events of myocarditis in adolescents and young adults, should [they] occur, specific instructions were provided to be vigilant with symptoms and signs of myocarditis […]. No anaphylaxis, no myocarditis, and no appendicitis were reported.”

Myocarditis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others are currently monitoring rates of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle. This comes following reports in July 2021 that some teenage boys had received diagnoses of this condition after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, which those over 12 years of age have been able to receive since May 2021.

The CDC  reports that males aged 12–29 years are most at risk of developing myocarditis.

It also states that although 687 cases of myocarditis following vaccination had been reported in under-30s in the U.S. between December 29, 2020, and June 11, 2021, healthcare professionals had given more than 52 million doses of the vaccine to people aged 12–30 years in total. So, this represents a very small risk.

However, there was still a discussion to be had over whether or not the risks of the vaccine, which were very small, outweighed the risks of developing COVID-19, which were also smaller for this section of the population than older adults.

One study, which has not yet undergone peer review, claimed that the risk of experiencing an adverse cardiac event following mRNA vaccination in males aged 16–17 years without any comorbidities was actually 3.5 times higher than the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19. This was widely reported in August 2021.

Conversely, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine from October 6, 2021, reported findings from the Israeli Ministry of Health surveillance of the issue that seemed to prove a link between receipt of the Pfizer vaccine and myocarditis.

Data collected between December 20, 2020, and May 31, 2021, confirmed 136 cases of myocarditis after receipt of the Pfizer vaccine out of 5.12 million Israelis who had received two doses. Analysis suggests that the risk is highest after the second dose in male recipients aged 16–19 years, with a risk ratio of 1 in 6,637.

Study co-author Prof. Manfred Green, from the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Haifa in Israel, told Medical News Today in an interview:

“Myocarditis is more common in males and females, [and] there are all kinds of theories why […]. [In the study, we found that] it generally was a mild illness, a mild infection and a minor event requiring hospitalization, as people with myocarditis are almost always hospitalized for observation. They required […] very basic anti-inflammatory treatment to treat the inflammation. All were fine, they recovered well.”

Dr. Green sits on the committee due to decide whether or not to proceed with licensing vaccines for 5–12-year-olds in Israel on November 10, 2021. He pointed out that as the dose given to 5–12-year-olds is one-third that of the dose given to older children and adults, “it is expected [that] there will be [fewer] side effects and [fewer] adverse events.”

Medically vulnerable children

Much of the concern voiced about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines is over the risk they may pose to healthy children.

Meanwhile, children who have some preexisting conditions will be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and will benefit more from vaccination. So, what about them?

There have been few studies into these children, as children in these groups are few in number. However, one study that appears in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood found no problematic side effects in a group of 20 adolescents aged 12–15 years with neurological conditions.

Risk-benefit analysis

When evaluating the risks posed by possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is impossible to do so without considering the possible benefits — though these may be hard to discern for the individual.

An analysis that appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on November 1, 2021, suggests that the vaccination of 12–17-year-olds is most beneficial while infection rates remain high — which, of course, they do in many parts of the world.

The analysis suggests that if SARS-CoV-2 infections are as high as 1,000 per 100,000 people per week over 16 weeks, vaccination could avert 4,430 hospital admissions and 36 deaths over 16 weeks. It also suggests that thousands of cases of long COVID could be avoided, even if the rate of long COVID was as low as 4% in teenagers.

Speaking at an Independent SAGE briefing on November 5, 2021, author Prof. Christina Pagel — a professor of operational research at UCL — said:

“It became really clear that if you got to really high case rates, then it is massively beneficial, and so even though children of 5–11 are less likely than adolescents to get really sick at the current rates of infection, with 6% [with the infection] at the end of October [in the U.K.], it is almost certain to be beneficial… I would be really surprised if there [weren’t] a benefit to vaccinating 5–11-year-olds, and I am a bit concerned that some members of [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] are already saying ‘it’s too soon.’”

Getty Images

Medical Myths: Sexual health

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been on the rise in the United States. In April 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that, in 2019, STIs had reached an all-time high for the sixth consecutive year.

In 2019, the CDC received reports of over 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 million STIs are acquired worldwide each day.

Despite rising rates, there is still significant stigma attached to STIs. For some, this might mean individuals are less willing to speak about sexual health concerns or raise questions with a doctor.

This unwillingness to speak openly about sexual health can breed misinformation.

Of course, the internet is a convenient first port of call when someone has a question they would like to ask anonymously. Sadly, not all information that appears on the web can be trusted.

Here, Medical News Today approached some common myths associated with sexual health and asked for input from an expert:

Dr. Sue Mann, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health and a medical expert in reproductive health at Public Health England.

Increasing understanding of sexual health helps people make informed, safe decisions. Although one article cannot brush away deeply ingrained falsehoods, the more trustworthy information that is available, the better.

1. When someone is taking ‘the pill,’ they cannot contract an STI

This is a myth. Oral contraception cannot protect against contracting an STI.

As Dr. Mann explained to MNT, “oral contraception only works to prevent pregnancy. The only way to protect yourself from getting an STI when using oral contraception is by wearing a condom.”

Mirroring this, the CDC states: “Birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring, and intrauterine device (IUD) are very effective at preventing pregnancy, but they do not protect against [STIs] and HIV.”

2. The ‘withdrawal method’ prevents pregnancy

The so-called withdrawal method, also called coitus interruptus or the pull-out method, is when the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation. Although it may reduce the chance of pregnancy, “the withdrawal method is not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Mann.

When used accurately, it can reduce the risk of pregnancy, but accuracy can be difficult in the heat of the moment.

Additionally, the penis releases pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, before ejaculation. In some cases, sperm can be present in this fluid.

In one study, for instance, scientists examined samples of pre-ejaculate from 27 participants. The scientists identified viable sperm in 10 of the participant’s pre-ejaculate.

Each volunteer provided a maximum of five samples. Interestingly, the researchers found sperm in either all or none of their samples. In other words, some people tend to have sperm in their pre-ejaculate, while others do not. The authors concluded:

“Condoms should continue to be used from the first moment of genital contact, although it may be that some men, less likely to leak spermatozoa in their pre-ejaculatory fluid, are able to practice coitus interruptus more successfully than others.”

3. The ‘withdrawal method’ prevents STIs

Using the withdrawal method, “you can still get an STI, such as HIV, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia,” explained Dr. Mann.

4. Using two condoms doubles the protection

It is understandable why people might assume two condoms would provide twice the protection, but this is a myth.

“It is actually more risky to use two or more condoms when having sex,” said Dr. Mann. “The likelihood of the condom breaking is higher due to the amount of friction the condom is enduring. A single condom is the best option.”

5. You can contract STIs from a toilet seat

This is perhaps one of the most persistent myths associated with STIs. Yet, despite being repeatedly debunked, it remains a myth. Dr. Mann told MNT:

“STIs are spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and by genital contact and sharing sex toys.”

She also explained that the viruses that cause “STIs cannot survive for long outside the human body, so they generally die quickly on surfaces like toilet seats.”

Similarly, the bacteria responsible for STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, cannot survive outside the body’s mucous membranes for a significant amount of time. For that reason, they would not survive on a toilet seat.

6. There are no treatments for STIs

This is not true. However, although they can be treated, not all can be cured. The Medical Myths: Sexual health

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been on the rise in the United States. In April 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that, in 2019, STIs had reached an all-time high for the sixth consecutive year.

In 2019, the CDC received reports of over 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 million STIs are acquired worldwide each day.

Despite rising rates, there is still significant stigma attached to STIs. For some, this might mean individuals are less willing to speak about sexual health concerns or raise questions with a doctor.

This unwillingness to speak openly about sexual health can breed misinformation.

Of course, the internet is a convenient first port of call when someone has a question they would like to ask anonymously. Sadly, not all information that appears on the web can be trusted.

Here, Medical News Today approached some common myths associated with sexual health and asked for input from an expert:

Dr. Sue Mann, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health and a medical expert in reproductive health at Public Health England.

Increasing understanding of sexual health helps people make informed, safe decisions. Although one article cannot brush away deeply ingrained falsehoods, the more trustworthy information that is available, the better.

7. You can’t contract an STI unless you have penetrative sex

“Penetrative sex isn’t the only way someone can contract an STI. Oral sex, genital contact, and sharing sex toys are other ways that STIs can be spread,” Dr. Mann told MNT.

Beyond sexual contact, it is also possible to contract an STI from exposure to blood that contains the infectious pathogen, including through sharing needles.

8. Only gay males contract HIV

This is another longstanding and entirely incorrect assumption. According to Dr. Mann:

“Anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or gender, can contract HIV. If you have HIV and don’t know it, you’re more likely to pass it on. But if you know your status, you can make sure you and your partner(s) are taking steps to stay healthy.”

Dr. Mann underscores the importance of testing, explaining that in many countries, “testing is free, easy, and confidential. You can even do a test in the comfort of your own home.”

9. You can only transmit an STI if you have symptoms

“A lot of people pass on STIs to others without even knowing,” said Dr. Mann. “STIs can be spread with symptoms or without.”

Indeed, the WHO explains that “[t]he majority of STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that may not be recognized as an STI.”

“That is why,” Dr. Mann explained, “it is important to be tested regularly and to use a condom to prevent STIs as much as possible.”

To summarize, STIs are common but preventable. Regular testing and understanding how to keep yourself safe are key to remaining STI-free. explains that eight pathogens make up the vast majority of STIs.

Four of the eight are curable: the bacterial infections syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, and the parasitic infection trichomoniasis.

The remaining four are viral: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV). These cannot yet be cured. However, it is worth noting that HPV infections are often cleared by the body naturally.

Clean eating: What does the research say?

Food bloggers, social media influencers, and magazines commonly relied upon for nutrition information often promote so-called clean eating.

Many supporters of this concept promise benefits such as weight loss, radiant skin, and improved energy.

The fundamentals of clean eating involve choosing natural, nutrient-dense foods and avoiding processed and refined foods.

Taking a “clean” approach to eating can lead to an overall healthy lifestyle and weight management. However, some interpretations of clean eating may lead to unhealthy consequences.

In this Honest Nutrition feature, we explain what clean eating is, its potential benefits, and its risks. We will also take a look at the latest research surrounding clean eating.

What is clean eating?

Clean eating is a movement that has rapidly grown in popularity over the last decade. Despite many people committing to clean eating to get healthier and lose weight, there is no clear definition of clean eating.

Generally speaking, “clean eating” could be described as choosing foods that are natural and wholesome. This includes foods that are free from additives, preservatives, and refined and processed ingredients.

Although the term likely emerged with good intentions, the lack of clarity surrounding it leaves it open to interpretation, which may mean that some adherence could take it too far.

For example, some may choose a less restrictive approach and follow a clean eating pattern similar to those outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This may include eating more whole fruits and vegetables, beans, and high-quality proteins while limiting processed foods.

However, others may be more restrictive and eliminate foods such as dairy, gluten, and sugar. They may also limit the number of food ingredients and avoid foods treated with antibiotics, pesticides, and growth hormones.

What do studies say?

One study published in the journal Nutrients examined perceptions of clean eating among a large, diverse sample of adolescents and emerging adults in the United States.

Although definitions varied among respondents, most of those surveyed classified clean eating as consuming whole or unprocessed foods, including raw foods, natural foods, and foods without artificial flavorings or additives.

Within those surveyed, 70.8% identified clean eating as healthy. In contrast, 18% identified both beneficial and harmful elements, meaning it could cause disordered eating patterns.

Another study published in Nutrients looked at 762 Australian women aged 17–55 years. They completed a self-report questionnaire on eating behaviors and beliefs about clean eating based on websites.

The study found that women who followed dietary advice from clean eating sites were more likely to meet dietary guidelines for fruit, meat, and meat alternatives — such as legumes, eggs, nuts, and seeds — compared to women who did not adhere to advice from the sites.

There were no statistical differences in vegetable, dairy, grains, or discretionary foods among the groups.

However, the study also found more dietary restraint among those who followed dietary advice from the sites, suggesting a potential for obsessive eating patterns. It is also uncertain if the advice given was from a credible source or followed evidence-based guidelines.

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that clean eating is viewed favorably by U.S.-based college students, even when it is linked with emotional distress.

The potential benefits of clean eating

Focusing on a clean diet can be beneficial because it reduces sodium, sugary beverages, and ultra-processed foods.

A version of clean eating that includes a nutrient-dense diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy protein can nourish the body adequately while supporting an individual’s overall health and weight management.

While there are no scientific studies to link clean eating with health benefits, there is research to associate difficulties in eating a balanced diet, typically avoided by clean eaters, with chronic disease.

For example, one large study published in The BMJ found that eating 10% more ultra-processed foods increased the risk of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cardiovascular disease by at least 10%.

The ultra-processed foods in the study included reconstituted meat products, savory snacks, and frozen dinners.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that overall difficulties in following a balanced diet, including excessive consumption of sugary beverages, sodium, and processed foods, can increase the risk of chronic disease.

The potential risks of clean eating

Research suggests that clean eating may result in excessive food restriction, resulting in nutrient deficiencies and loss of social relationships. This can also lead to mental distress.

The clean eating movement’s lack of clarity surrounding dietary recommendations can result in people categorizing certain foods as “bad” and other foods as “good” without strong evidence to support this labeling.

This puts pressure on individuals to eat a certain way and can lead to a harmful obsession with healthy eating.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, clean eating, similar to dieting, increases the risk for orthorexia nervosa (ON), the strict avoidance of foods a person perceives to be unhealthy. This may include additives, nonorganic foods, and processed foods.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, does not recognize orthorexia as a separate eating disorder. However, many researchers believe ON should fall under the Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder umbrella.

It is important to note there is a difference between orthorexia and dietary restrictions. While some people may avoid certain foods due to ethical, religious, or health-related reasons, those with orthorexia have obsessive thoughts about their eating habits.

Moreover, choosing grilled chicken over fried chicken or spaghetti squash over pasta does not mean clean eating has gone too far.

As long as a person’s dietary pattern includes food from all food groups, there may not be cause for concern. A healthy, balanced diet is the best approach, no matter which dietary pattern an individual follows.

Eating a healthy diet

While an obsession with clean eating is not healthy for the mind or body, it is important to eat a nutrient-dense, healthy diet. There are ways to find a healthy balance between clean eating and eating healthy without fear or restriction.

For example, a nutritious diet can include frozen and canned produce. However, when choosing canned or frozen foods, avoid added sodium, sugar, and syrups.

All processed foods are not necessarily bad, nor should they completely be eliminated. In fact, most of the foods sold in stores today are processed to some extent.

To ensure nutrient needs are met, follow evidence-based food and beverage recommendations such as those outlined in the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which states that a nutritious adult diet includes:

  • vegetables of all types and colors
  • fruits, with an emphasis on whole fruit
  • grains, with at least half being whole grains
  • diary, including low fat or fat-free milk and cheese or lactose-free versions
  • protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, peas, and lentils
  • oils, including vegetable oils and oils in foods such as nuts

The guidelines also suggest limiting added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcoholic beverages.

The bottom line

Since the definition of clean eating varies greatly by person, there is no research to prove it has more benefits than other dietary patterns.

While some may follow a clean eating pattern and allow for moderation leading to great success, others vulnerable to disordered eating may be at risk.

A harmful obsession with restricting certain foods or food groups can put a person at risk of malnutrition, social isolation, and overall mental distress.

It appears the existence of nonqualified individuals giving faulty advice on clean eating may further put individuals at risk for developing disordered eating patterns.

With this in mind, it’s important to always speak with a registered dietitian or qualified nutrition professional whenever questions arise about clean eating.

Organic food background and Copy space. Food photography different fruits and vegetables isolated white background. High resolution product

What can I do about an overactive bladder?

The bladder collects urine from the kidneys and expels it when it is full. If a bladder is overactive, a person cannot control when they choose to urinate, and the number of times they urinate during the day.

The condition occurs when a person’s bladder squeezes frequently or without warning. As a result, they may have to use the bathroom more frequently or urine may leak out.

The condition is usually the result of miscommunication between the brain and the bladder. The brain signals to the bladder that it is time to squeeze and empty, but the bladder isn’t full. As a result, the bladder starts to contract. This causes a strong urge to urinate.

While the condition may be common, it doesn’t have to mean a person has to live with the symptoms. Many treatments are available that can help people reduce their symptoms.

Symptoms

An overactive bladder will cause a group of symptoms, all of which can affect a person’s quality of life.

An overactive bladder may cause a number of different symptoms including urinating more than eight times a day and leaking urine when the need to urinate arises.

Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Frequency of urination: A person will urinate more than eight times a day.
  • Nocturia: A person cannot sleep through the night without waking up to urinate, usually one to two times.
  • Urinary urgency: A person will experience a sudden and uncontrollable urge to urinate.
  • Urge incontinence: A person will leak urine when they experience the urge to urinate.

A person with an overactive bladder may often feel like they can’t completely empty their bladder. They may use the restroom and then feel like they need to go again a very short time after.

Doctors divide overactive bladder into two types based on their symptoms. The first type is overactive bladder, dry. According to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, an estimated two-thirds of people with overactive bladder have the dry variety.

The second type is overactive bladder, wet. A person with this condition experiences a leaking bladder. Those with overactive bladder, dry, do not have the leaking symptoms.

Risk factors

Some patients may pass off their overactive bladder symptoms as a natural part of getting older. However, aging isn’t the only risk factor that could increase a person’s risk of experiencing an overactive bladder.

Additional risk factors include:

  • nerve damage due to a history of surgery
  • trauma to the upper body or pelvis that damages the bladder
  • having a condition known as normal pressure hydrocephalus, a cause of dementia
  • having a urinary tract infection
  • history of bladder or prostate cancer
  • history of bladder stones
  • history of conditions that affect neurological function, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke
  • having gone through menopause
  • eating a diet high in foods that make the bladder more “irritable” or likely to be overactive

Examples of the types of foods that can make the bladder overactive include caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.

A doctor may not be able to say why a person is experiencing overactive bladder symptoms. The symptoms can seem to occur spontaneously.

When to see a doctor

Although overactive bladder isn’t thought to be a life-threatening condition, the condition can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. Many treatments are available to lessen symptoms, although doctors can’t cure the condition.

Waking up at night to use the bathroom may be a sign of an overactive bladder. If symptoms persist, it may be advised to visit a healthcare professional.

Examples of signs that a person should seek treatment for an overactive bladder include when:

  • a person cannot sleep throughout the night without waking up to go to the bathroom
  • a person uses the restroom more than eight times per day
  • a person frequently experiences sudden urges to urinate and rarely makes it to the bathroom
  • a person experiences urine leakage regularly

A person may sometimes experience these symptoms and yet not realize the degree to which they have them. There are several tools that can help assess the likelihood that the symptoms may be related to overactive bladder.

Examples of these tools include:

  • An online quiz regarding overactive bladder symptoms and severity, which is offered by the American Urological Association.
  • A “bladder diary” that a person can keep of the foods and drinks they consume plus how often they go to the bathroom and have symptoms, such as urinary urgency and incontinence.
  • Smartphone apps, which a person can download that help them keep a bladder diary by tracking how much they drink, number of trips to the restroom, and urinary leakages that occur.

Using these tools can help track the regularity of someone’s symptoms and sometimes confirm that symptoms are cause for concern.

However, a person should always see their physician if they are having bladder symptoms they are worried about.

Lifestyle remedies

Some foods and drinks are known to contribute to bladder irritation. As a result, making lifestyle changes can help a person reduce the likelihood they will experience overactive bladder symptoms.

Limiting the intake of alcohol and caffeine as well as stopping smoking may be recommended lifestyle changes.

Examples of steps to take include:

  • Limiting intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can stimulate the bladder.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight can place too much pressure on a person’s bladder.
  • Increasing fiber intake, which can reduce the risk of constipation and the likelihood of an overactive bladder.
  • Adjusting fluid intake so that a person doesn’t drink as much fluid in the evening. This helps to decrease the likelihood of them waking up overnight with the need to urinate.
  • Stopping smoking, as smoke can be irritating to the bladder.

Medical treatment

A doctor can recommend many treatments for overactive bladder, including medications, dietary changes, and physical therapy. Rarely, a doctor may recommend more invasive measures to treat the condition.

Doctors can prescribe a number of medications to treat an overactive bladder. These medications are usually known as antispasmodics or anticholinergics. They reduce the incidence of muscle spasms, such as the spasms in the bladder.

Examples of these medications include:

  • oxybutynin (Ditropan)
  • solfienacin (Vesicare)
  • tolterodine (Detrol)
  • trospium (Sanctura)

These medications are not without their side effects, such as dry mouth and constipation. People should always talk to their doctor regarding potential side effects.

Therapy treatments

A number of therapy treatments exist for overactive bladder. One example is bladder training. This is a method used to strengthen the muscles of the bladder by delaying voiding. Bladder training should only be done with the advice and direction of a physician.

Pelvic floor exercises and vaginal weight training are also therapy methods used to strengthen the bladder muscles. Specialists, called pelvic floor therapists, can instruct a person through these exercises.

More invasive approaches

Doctors are using injections of botulinum toxin (such as BOTOX) to reduce muscle spasms to the bladder. However, this may require further injections after a few months as the toxin wears off.

If a person’s overactive bladder does not respond to medications, therapy, or other non-invasive treatments, a doctor may recommend surgery.

One example is the implantation of a sacral nerve stimulator. This stimulator can help to control the nerve impulses to the bladder, making the muscles less overactive.

Another option is a procedure known as augmentation cytoplasty. This involves replacing portions of a person’s bladder with bowel tissue. As a result, a person’s bladder is better able to tolerate a larger volume of urine.