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Overactive bladder? You might think so after seeing Toviaz ad

Consumer Reports News: April 07, 2010 06:08 AM

I urinate often. There, I said it. I hit the ladies’ room at least 10 times on an average day, and often up to 12 times, especially if I have a beer or cocktail with dinner. I come from a long line of women who’ve seen the inside of enough public restrooms to write a Zagat’s guide on them. In New York City, where I live, I’ve cultivated a neighborhood-by-neighborhood mental list of places I can duck into when I’m on the go and need to, well, go. (These also come in handy when my mom comes to visit.)

All this stopping what I’m doing to go to the bathroom can get really annoying. That’s why, when I started to see ads for drugs to treat something called overactive bladder (OAB) a few years ago, I thought, eureka! There’s a name for it! Heck, there’s even an acronym! And a drug to treat it!

Enticed by the specter of sitting through a whole outdoor concert without a trip to the Port-a-Potty, I asked my doctor about these drugs, just like the ads suggested. And she asked me a few things back. Did I have any problems with my urination other than the frequency—like having accidents, feeling like I couldn’t get to the bathroom on time, or leaking urine inadvertently? Well, no. Did I drink coffee? Yep, every day. Alcohol? A bit, yeah. Water? Yeah, lots. She said the amount I was urinating made sense given how much liquid I drank and the fact that, given my petite stature and family history of constant pit stops, chances were I had a pretty small bladder. She could prescribe one of the drugs, she said, which work by powerfully suppressing the urge to urinate. But I probably didn’t need it.

That’s the thing about ads like these. As this new installment of our AdWatch video series addresses, the makers of drugs like Toviaz, Detrol, or Enablex have everything to gain by leaving the definition of the conditions they’re intended to treat nice and vague—so that you’re left to ponder whether you, too, have a problem that requires drug treatment.

There are people who need drugs for urinary symptoms—indeed, our own Best Buy Drugs project offers research-based recommendations on the best medications approved to treat overactive bladder, including some you may have seen advertised. But plenty of people don’t need medication. Or, as in my case, in the risk-benefit ratio that should form the basis of any medical treatment decision, it just doesn’t make sense to take on the potential side effects—and they can be harsh—to realize a benefit that, for me, would amount to a few less minutes spent waiting in line for the Starbucks bathroom every week.

It’s almost insulting to the people who really suffer from urinary symptoms, who can’t engage in even the most commonplace activities without fear of an embarrassing accident or intolerable urge to go. What business do I, with my pea-sized but otherwise healthy bladder, have taking a drug meant for a real illness?

No doubt I have an overactive bladder. But I refuse to have Overactive Bladder.

Jamie Kopf Hirsh,associate editor

Read about how to read your urine.

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