Clinical Review


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Two recent studies of overactive bladder and urge incontinence treatments address the value of behavioral management and oxybutynin’s impact on cognition in the elderly



The authors report no financial relationships relevant to this article.

Overactive bladder (OAB)—urinary urgency, with or without incontinence, usually with frequency and nocturia1—is a common problem among women who seek care from an ObGyn. In fact, the condition is estimated to carry a health-care cost in excess of $12 billion annually in the United States.2

A recent community-based survey in Norway estimated the prevalence of urinary incontinence there to be 27% in women between the ages of 65 and 69 years and 35% to 40% in those 80 years or older.3 A population-based study in the United States suggested an even higher rate of urinary incontinence here: greater than 50% in women 60 years or older, with 1) urge urinary incontinence (UUI) predominating4 and 2) the prevalence particularly high among older women who are homebound or who live in a long-term care facility.5

OAB can undermine quality of life in several ways: social isolation, anxiety, poor sleep, higher risk of fracture after a fall,6 reduced ability to function, and poor self-perception. Despite these harmful effects, many women delay seeking care for OAB because they are embarrassed to talk about it with their physician.

Treatment by generalists is feasible—but there is a catch

It’s possible to treat most patients with OAB without referral to a specialist. Two common concerns, however, may set up a roadblock to successful management: the adverse effects associated with some agents and suboptimal control of symptoms.

In this Update, we review recent findings about 1) the potential that anticholinergic therapy has for impairing cognitive function in the older population of women and 2) the important role that concomitant behavioral therapy plays in the long-term success of, and patients’ satisfaction with, treatment of OAB.

Behavioral therapy for OAB: Is it worth all the effort?

Burgio KL, Locher JL, Goode PS. Combined behavioral and drug therapy for urge incontinence in older women. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2000;48:370–374.

The authors of this article followed a randomized clinical trial of older women that compared behavioral and drug therapy for OAB. In the trial, biofeedback-assisted behavioral training (comprising anorectal biofeedback, urge strategies, pelvic muscle biofeedback, and practitioner-directed review with optimization) was compared with treatment with oxybutynin, between 2.5 and 15 mg/day. Both biofeedback-assisted behavioral therapy and the drug regimen were found effective, although neither treatment provided an entirely satisfactory result for all patients. (For a brief description of what constitutes behavioral treatment, see “6 tenets of behavioral therapy for urge urinary incontinence.”)

Second phase of the trial. To determine if treatment satisfaction could be enhanced, the investigators performed a modified crossover study to determine whether combination therapy—biofeedback-assisted behavioral training plus oxybutynin—added any benefit over treatment with behavioral therapy or drug therapy alone. Eligibility was determined by age (55 years or older), demonstrated UUI for at least 3 months, and incomplete dryness or incomplete satisfaction with the outcome of 8 weeks of single-intervention treatment (with either treatment) during the initial phase of the trial.

This subgroup was offered an additional 8 weeks of combination therapy. The primary outcome measure was a reduction in the frequency of episodes of incontinence episodes as recorded by subjects in a bladder diary.

Of 197 women who participated in the original randomized clinical trial, 35—27 who completed drug therapy and 8 who completed behavioral treatment—elected to receive combination therapy. Those 35 subjects did not differ in any of the multiple baseline variables; mean age was 69.3 years (standard deviation [SD], ±7.9 years).

Among subjects originally assigned to behavioral therapy alone, overall reduction in incontinence increased from a mean of 57.5% to a mean of 88.5% after combined therapy (P=.034). Subjects originally assigned to drug therapy alone demonstrated an improvement from 72.7% reduction in incontinence to a mean 84.3% overall reduction with combined therapy (P=.001).

These data suggest that combined therapy can be more effective than behavioral therapy or drug therapy alone. The impact of this study is limited, however, by the relatively low percentage (12.7%) of patients who had received behavioral therapy and chose to add drug therapy, compared with the 41.5% who moved from drug therapy alone to add behavioral therapy.


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