If you’ve tried to ease your overactive bladder symptoms with lifestyle changes and medications and nothing seems to work, don’t give up hope. “If a patient has tried medications and they’re not working, or refuses to try medications and wants to skip that and go to something else, what’s usually offered next is Botox injections,” says Lauri Romanzi, MD, a urogynecologist in New York City.
What Is Botox?
“Botox was originally discovered as a toxin that’s derived from bacterium called Clostridium botulinum,” says Kaveh Alizadeh, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New York City. This toxin is actually the same one that causes a life-threatening type of food poisoning called botulism, but doctors use it (completely safely) in small doses to treat health problems, like to reduce wrinkles, treat uncontrollable blinking (blepharospasm), or in this case, overactive bladder.
Botox injections work by weakening or paralyzing certain muscles or by blocking certain nerves that make your bladder cranky. Its effects last about three to twelve months, depending on what you are treating.
How Botox Helps Treat Overactive Bladder
Botox’s muscle-relaxant effect allows it to be very effective for overactive bladder symptoms, says Dr. Alizadeh. “[With overactive bladder] you have spasm of the muscle that surrounds the bladder, and by injecting [Botox] around it you’re able to take away the spasm that causes the overflow of the bladder,” he says.
During the procedure, a doctor will insert a small fiber-optic tube through the urethra into the bladder. A tiny needle is then inserted into the tube and the Botox is injected at different points in the bladder. “Once it’s in, as with any other part of the body, it relaxes the muscle, and this can help reduce overactive bladder symptoms,” says Dr. Romanzi.
A risk with getting Botox injections to treat overactive bladder is that your bladder may overreact to the drug, which may make it difficult to pee. “It can be a little bit distressing initially if it happens to you,” says Dr. Romanzi. “But, it almost always goes away over time.”
Getting treated with Botox requires ongoing sessions; one treatment isn’t going to cure overactive bladder. “You need to go back at some sort of interval that works for you, and is safe according to the doctor,” says Dr. Romanzi.