A group of researchers argue that the symptoms of an 'overactive bladder' should be studied individually in order to better understand the underlying causes of the symptoms and to help develop more effective treatments.

"The overactive bladder syndrome has become an accepted way to simplify a complex array of symptoms and leads people to believe that an overactive bladder is an independent disease in itself,” said Kari Tikkinen, MD, PhD, from the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCS in Finnish) Department of Urology.

“However, the truth is not as simple as this, as there are usually several factors at work explaining the symptoms. This is also one of the reasons why so called overactive bladder medications often do not bring the hoped result."

Researchers noted that the expression 'overactive bladder' was coined at an industry-sponsored symposium held in 1997.

A year later the FDA approved the first drug for the treatment of 'symptoms of overactive bladder'.

The pharmaceutical industry later launched high-profile, worldwide promotional campaigns for drugs aimed at treatment of an ‘overactive bladder,’ which is defined as the presence of urinary urgency with or without urgency incontinence, usually with increased daytime frequency and nocturia in the absence of infection or other obvious pathology.

"The definition is vague and ambiguous because it includes unspecific terms, such as 'usually' and 'with or without', and the unclear expression 'other obvious pathology'," Tikkinen said.

"For the pharmaceutical industry this definition is probably quite useful, as it is partly the reason why one medicine can be prescribed to a large number of patients."

While research in overactive bladder has largely increased over the past ten years, the pharmaceutical industry has heavily invested in it.

"It has previously been shown that research funded by commercial actors often ends up unpublished if the results don't serve the interests of the company," said Tikkinen.

“More independent, non-commercially funded research on the subject is needed. There are, in the end, a huge number of people who suffer from urinary urgency and increased urinary frequency, and current treatments are not bringing sufficient relief."