Q: I’ve seen Oxytrol advertised for women with bladder control issues. Can it really solve my “gotta go” problem?
A: Oxytrol, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013, is the first over-the-counter (OTC) medication for women with an overactive bladder. The drug is delivered through a skin patch. Television commercials show women going shopping and doing other activities, no longer fearing they will need to rush to the bathroom to avoid an accident.
Overactive bladder occurs when the bladder contracts too often or without any warning, leading to a sudden urge to urinate, frequent urination and possibly incontinence. The active ingredient in Oxytrol is oxybutynin, which relaxes the smooth muscles in the bladder. Oxybutynin has been available since 2003 as an oral prescription drug for overactive bladder in both men and women (brand name Ditropan), but the new OTC patch is approved so far only for women.
According to the FDA, Oxytrol is safe and effective for OTC use, based on nine studies that included more than 5,000 women. One patch, which works for four days, provides a more constant level of the active ingredient and has fewer side effects than oral overactive bladder drugs. Possible side effects include skin irritation at the application site, constipation and dry mouth, as well as dizziness, drowsiness, dry eyes and stomach upset.
Unless you know for certain that your urinary problems are due to an overactive bladder, you should consult your health care provider before self-treating. Other medical conditions, such as a urinary tract infection, diabetes or even bladder cancer, can have similar symptoms. (If you use the patch for two weeks without improvement, that could be a sign that something else is going on.) The drug should not be used by women with certain medical conditions, and it can interact with some medications. Keep in mind, also, that lifestyle modifications (including diet changes, bladder training and pelvic floor muscle exercises) are often recommended for an overactive bladder before medication.