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Dr. Kim Mulvihill Reporting The symptoms can curtail an affect lifestyle, and are often embarrassing. Millions of Americans suffer from an overactive bladder, including a world famous athlete.
Mary Lou Retton is a star. She catapulted into fame during the '84 Olympics, becoming the first American woman to win the Olympic all around title in gymnastics. But little did any of her fans realize, she was living in fear.
Mary Lou Retton: "I always had that fear in my mind, if I'm in a competition and oh my gosh, I'm up there on beam and what happens if I have to go the bathroom?"
Ever since she was a child, Mary Lou had to go the bathroom both urgently and frequently.
Mary Lou: "I didn't think anything was wrong with me. If you look at me, I'm little. Obviously. I'm four foot nine. And kind of my saying my whole life was little people have little bladders."
What Mary Lou had was not a little bladder, but an overactive bladder. The condition affects more than seventeen million men and women of all ages.
Dr. Jeannette Brown: "What happens is, as fluid goes into the bladder early on its starts contracting you feel that need to go, that urgency."
Dr. Jeannette Brown of UCSF is an expert in overactive bladder. She says it's important for women to talk about the condition.
Dr. Brown: "It's the same thing as with menopause 20 years ago. It's as if no one had menopause, no one talked about it, and we brought it out of the closet. We need to do the same thing with incontinence cause it's so common."
Dr. Brown says there's good news - surgery is not necessary and women can retrain their bladders, using a technique she calls "mind over bladder". For example, "holding it" as long as possible.
Along with these techniques, some women, like Mary Lou, also use medication.
Mary Lou: "That seems to be working for me and I'm not going to rock the boat (ha ha ha). It's working."