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Cover of Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Women

Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Women

Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, No. 187

Investigators: Katherine E Hartmann, MD, PhD, Melissa L McPheeters, PhD, MPH, Daniel H Biller, MD, Renée M Ward, MD, J Nikki McKoy, BA, Rebecca N Jerome, MLIS, MPH, Sandra R Micucci, MSc, Laura Meints, MD, MBA, Jill A Fisher, PhD, Theresa A Scott, MS, James C Slaughter, DrPH, and Jeffrey D Blume, PhD.

Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2009 Aug.
Report No.: 09-E017
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Structured Abstract


The Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center systematically reviewed evidence on treatment of overactive bladder (OAB), urge urinary incontinence, and related symptoms. We focused on prevalence and incidence, treatment outcomes, comparisons of treatments, modifiers of outcomes, and costs.


We searched PubMed, MEDLINE®, EMBASE, and CINAHL.

Review Methods:

We included studies published in English from January 1966 to October 2008. We excluded studies with fewer than 50 participants, fewer than 75 percent women, or lack of relevance to OAB. Of 232 included publications, 20 were good quality, 145 were fair, and 67 poor. We calculated weighted averages of outcome effects and conducted a mixed-effects meta-analysis to investigate outcomes of pharmacologic treatments across studies.


OAB affects more than 10 to 15 percent of adult women, with 5 to 10 percent experiencing urge urinary incontinence (UUI) monthly or more often. Six available medications are effective in short term studies: estimates from meta-analysis models suggest extended release forms (taken once a day) reduce UUI by 1.78 (95 percent confidence interval (CI): 1.61, 1.94) episodes per day, and voids by 2.24 (95 percent CI: 2.03, 2.46) per day. Immediate release forms (taken twice or more a day) reduce UUI by 1.46 (95 percent CI: 1.28, 1.64), and voids by 2.17 (95 percent CI: 1.81, 2.54). As context, placebo reduces UUI episodes by 1.08 (95 percent CI: 0.86, 1.30), and voids by 1.48 (95 percent CI: 1.19, 1.71) per day. No one drug was definitively superior to others, including comparison of newer more selective agents to older antimuscarinics.

Current evidence is insufficient to guide choice of other therapies including sacral neuromodulation, instillation of oxybutynin, and injections of botulinum toxin. Acupuncture was the sole complementary and alternative medicine treatment, among reflexology and hypnosis, with early evidence of benefit. The strength of the evidence is insufficient to fully inform choice of these treatments. Select behavioral interventions were associated with symptom improvements comparable to medications. Limited evidence suggests no clear benefit from adding behavioral interventions at the time of initiation of pharmacologic treatment.


OAB and associated symptoms are common. Treatment effects are modest. Quality of life and treatment satisfaction measures suggest such improvements can be important to women. The amount of high quality literature available is meager for helping guide women’s choices. Gaps include weak or absent data about long-term followup, poorly characterized and potentially concerning harms, information about best choices to minimize side effects, and study of how combinations of approaches may best be used. This is problematic since the condition is chronic and a single treatment modality is unlikely to fully resolve symptoms for most women.


Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.1 Contract No. 290-2007-10065-I. Prepared by: Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center.2

Suggested citation:

Hartmann KE, McPheeters ML, Biller DH, Ward RM, McKoy JN, Jerome RN, Micucci SR, Meints L, Fisher JA, Scott TA, Slaughter JC, Blume JD. Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Women. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 187 (Prepared by the Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10065-I). AHRQ Publication No. 09-E017. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. August 2009.

This report is based on research conducted by the Vanderbilt University Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD (Contract No. HHSA 290-2007-10065-I). The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the authors, who are responsible for its content, and do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. No statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The information in this report is intended to help clinicians, employers, policymakers, and others make informed decisions about the provision of health care services. This report is intended as a reference and not as a substitute for clinical judgment.

This report may be used, in whole or in part, as the basis for the development of clinical practice guidelines and other quality enhancement tools, or as a basis for reimbursement and coverage policies. AHRQ or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsement of such derivative products may not be stated or implied.

No investigators have any affiliations or financial involvement (e.g., employment, consultancies, honoraria, stock options, expert testimony, grants or patents received or pending, or royalties) that conflict with material presented in this report.


540 Gaither Road, Rockville, MD 20850. www​.ahrq.gov


Institute for Medicine and Public Health, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 2525 West End Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37203-1738.


AHRQ (US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)

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