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Am Fam Physician. 2007 May 1;75(9):1336.

Nonpharmacologic vs. Anticholinergic Therapies for Overactive Bladder

Clinical Question

How do nonpharmacologic therapies compare with anticholinergic medications in patients with overactive bladder (i.e., urinary urgency)?

Evidence-Based Answer

Anticholinergic medications are more effective than bladder training in reducing the number of voids per day. Combining an anti-cholinergic medication with bladder training is more effective than either therapy alone.

Practice Pointers

Overactive bladder can be associated with urge incontinence, urinary frequency, and nocturia. Causes of chronic bladder irritation include urinary tract infection; pelvic surgery; estrogen deficiency; diabetes; multiple sclerosis; medications (e.g., neuroleptics, diuretics); cerebral ischemia; dementia; and overflow incontinence.1

The most common treatments for overactive bladder are anticholinergic medications, bladder training, pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, and electric stimulation of the detrusor muscles. Compared with placebo, persons taking anticholinergic medications for overactive bladder have about five fewer trips to the bathroom and four fewer leakage episodes per week. Patients taking anticholinergic medications also report modest improvements in quality of life.2

This Cochrane review included randomized or quasirandomized controlled trials that compared anticholinergic medications with nonpharmacologic therapies for overactive bladder or urinary urge incontinence in adults. Thirteen trials (1,770 total participants treated for three to 12 weeks) were identified; however, most trials were small and protocols varied, making it difficult to draw many firm conclusions.

Bladder training was the most effective non-pharmacologic treatment studied. Six trials (288 total participants) compared anticholinergic medications (4 mg of tolterodine [Detrol], 45 mg of propantheline [Pro-Banthine], or 5 to 45 mg of oxybutynin [Ditropan] daily). Overall, anticholinergic medications improved symptoms compared with bladder training alone (relative risk = 0.73; 95% confidence interval, 0.59 to 0.90). Combining bladder training with an anticholinergic medication improved symptoms compared with either treatment alone. Patients receiving combined treatment had about 5 percent fewer voids per day, and about 15 percent of patients reported a greater change from baseline in the sensation of urgency.

No trials of pelvic floor muscle training or surgery were found. No significant difference between anticholinergic medications and electrostimulation was found. About one third of patients taking anticholinergic medications experienced adverse effects such as dry mouth, headache, constipation, dizziness, decreased visual acuity, and tachycardia.


Alhasso AA, et al. Anticholinergic drugs versus non-drug active therapies for overactive bladder syndrome in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(4):CD003193.


1. Finnish Medical Society Duodecim. Urinary incontinence in women. In: EBM guidelines. Evidence-based medicine [CD-ROM]. Helsinki, Finland: Duodecim Medical Publications, 2005. Accessed February 22, 2007, at:

2. Nabi G, Cody JD, Ellis G, Herbison P, Hay-Smith J. Anticholinergic drugs versus placebo for overactive bladder syndrome in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(4):CD003781.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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