Holly Robinson Peete Reveals a Health Struggle Most Women Won’t Talk About

Updated: Jan. 20, 2023

"Any restaurant I went to, any trip I would go on, I would always have to sort of pre-plan," says actress Holly Robinson Peete. Thirty-three million Americans can relate.

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We’ve all been there: it’s a morning of non-stop meetings, you’re in the window seat on a plane, or just dozing off at bedtime—and you suddenly feel an urgent pressure in your bladder. If you feel like you always need to pee, it’s possible that you (or your partner) have had to adapt aspects of your life around this nagging nuisance…possibly, without your even realizing it.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, overactive bladder (OAB) affects up to 33 million adults in the US, including as many as 30% of men and 40% of women. Overactive bladder symptoms can be uncomfortable and frustrating, ranging from uncontrollable urges to urinate (including at night), peeing more frequently, and experiencing incontinence. For actress Holly Robinson Peete, overactive bladder has been a difficult part of her life for years.

Peete—who’s known for a long TV career on shows like Hangin’ with Mr. CooperThe Talk and nearly two dozen TV moviesrecently teamed up with Urovant Sciences for the Time To Go campaign to raise awareness of overactive bladder and help educate people on how to manage its symptoms. This week, Peete spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about her experience with overactive bladder…which goes hand-in-hand with her secret to getting healthy—and undisturbed—sleep.

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Why Holly Robinson Peete is speaking out about overactive bladder

Peete says she was struggling with overactive bladder for years without knowing it was a diagnosable condition. “I just really crafted my life around it,” she admits. “Finally, I went to my doctor and I was like, ‘Listen, is this something that I can get help for? Because I’m just having to go all the time.’”

Often on film sets (and sometimes dressed in heavy layers to film a Hallmark Christmas movie) Peete says dealing with the constant urge to go became very inconvenient, and made her daily routine a struggle. “I would always have to figure out where the bathroom was; that was the first thing I would ask. Any restaurant I went to, any trip I would go on, I would always have to sort of pre-plan about where the bathroom was.”

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She’s not the only one with overactive bladder who’s had to configure her lifestyle choices around the condition. Urologist and Urovant Sciences spokesperson Dr. Ashley Tapscott, DO, says everyone can be sensitive to certain triggers. For people with overactive bladder in particular, avoiding known bladder irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and chocolate can help lessen their symptoms.

For Peete, medication was the answer. After her doctor prescribed GEMTESA to treat her overactive bladder symptoms, she reports that she saw huge improvements. Now, she just wishes she hadn’t waited so long to talk about it.

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How not to deal with overactive bladder

Dr. Tapscott says Peete isn’t alone in delaying treatment because of uncertainty or shame around overactive bladder. “Sometimes we attribute it to, Did I have too much caffeine? Could it be menopause? And we just kind of get up and go and really learn a lot of these behavioral modifications and coping mechanisms,” the urologist says. “[…T]o think that someone like Holly or another young, working mom would have to worry about, ‘Where do I put these pads in a backpack when I’m going to a soccer game?, or What if there’s not a bathroom at the field?, or worrying about an accident—it really, really is a painful, isolating, and lonely process.”

Peete says as a working mom, she thinks many women like her “just suck it up. We don’t think about, ‘That’s just something that I shouldn’t have to deal with right now, so I’m just going to mask it or figure out other options.’”

Learning more about overactive bladder from her doctor helped Peete understand that this wasn’t just something she had to deal with, though—and now she hopes she can help other people learn the same. 

“I’ve been in the public eye for a long time, and I really feel that I know the importance of sharing your personal stories, especially when they’re really truly authentic to you,” Peete says. “I just didn’t even know that this existed, and I’m so glad to have this information. Every now and then a campaign comes along where you feel not just this physical connection, but this personal connection. And if my conversation can open up a conversation for someone else, then that’s a great thing.”

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How to sleep with overactive bladder

Dr. Tapscott says it’s common for people with overactive bladder to struggle with sleeping through the night because they’re often woken by an urge to go. For Peete, finding relief to her overactive bladder symptoms helped her regain a full night’s rest, which is her favorite form of self-care.

“I use apps,” she shares. “I love these apps that give you different options and it measures your sleep. And it’s almost like a video game where you get competitive. I’m a competitive lady. I get competitive about, Alright, how many hours did I sleep? Turn that TV off. That’s one of our biggest fights. My husband and I are like—OK, last night he had the TV on some random show that I was like, ‘OK, listen, you could march your butt right in that living room and you can watch your little whatever show, but you’re not going to deprive me.’”