Why you should be wary of the Oxytrol patch

This new over-the-counter drug to treat overactive bladder in women isn't the first step to take

Published: November 2013

A new product that recently hit shelves proposes to offer millions of women an easy solution to an embarrassing problem. The Oxytrol for Women (oxybutynin) patch is available without a prescription to treat those with an overactive bladder, which can cause incontinence problems and make women run to the bathroom eight or nine times a day or even more. But here’s why our experts say that women should think twice before rushing out to buy it.

  • Drugs to treat overactive bladder don’t work very well, according to a recent CR Best Buy Drugs analysis. Studies have found that only a small proportion of people get full relief of their symptoms while taking a medication, especially for longer periods of time. But most people can expect some relief—a decrease in the number of times a day they feel a strong urge to urinate and a decline in leakage episodes.
  • Patches and pills to treat an overactive bladder can cause side effects that include blurred vision, constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, and occasionally even mental confusion. Research finds that more than half of the people who take those drugs stop within six months.
  • Severe symptoms may warrant taking a drug, but for mild cases try other options first. If you and your doctor decide to try a drug, consider tolterodine (Detrol or generic), which is a pill. It’s a CR Best Buy because it has a lower risk of side effects.
  • You might not even have an overactive bladder. Symptoms that are associated with diabetes, kidney stones, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and urinary-tract infections can be mistaken for those caused by an overactive bladder. Other symptoms, such as urine leaking when you laugh or sneeze (called “stress incontinence” caused by a weakness of the muscles that help keep the bladder closed) can also be confused with having an overactive bladder. And some drugs, such as those to treat high blood pressure, can cause bladder problems.
  • Lifestyle changes and other nondrug measures might provide enough relief. Cut back on alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, and limit fluids before bedtime. Exercises to help control bladder function can help—timing urination at regular intervals and holding it for progressively longer periods. Your doctor may recommend Kegel exercises, which involve repeatedly tightening and strengthening the pelvic muscles that control the flow of urine. Be patient: Results can take up to six weeks.

Safety precaution

Most people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia should generally avoid taking this class of drugs because they might increase mental confusion.

Editor's Note:

This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin). The aricle was adapted from Consumer Reports On Health newsletter. 

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