Some foods and drinks can aggravate urge incontinence (overactive bladder). There’s no formal “urinary incontinence diet,” so finding out what worsens your symptoms is a process of trial and error. Since we’re all unique individuals, what sends one person running for the bathroom may be just fine for another.
Let’s take a look at six common diet culprits that can irritate the bladder and worsen the symptoms of incontinence.
1. Too Much Water
When you’re bothered by urinary incontinence, there’s a fine line between preventing dehydration and worsening your incontinence. Most sources recommend drinking eight 8 oz. cups of water daily. However, four to six 8 oz. cups may be an amount that prevents dehydration and unexpected trips to the bathroom. Managing fluids helps the symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence.
2. Alcoholic Beverages
If you have urge incontinence or mixed urinary incontinence (a combination of urge and stress), alcoholic beverages can be bad news. Alcohol has a direct effect on the bladder, reduces nerve control, and acts as a diuretic that can cause dehydration. It interferes with the messages your brain sends to your bladder (telling it when to go, when to hold urine, etc.) so you’re more likely to have an incontinence episode.
Caffeine stimulates the bladder and also acts as a diuretic. It’s best to eliminate coffee and other caffeine sources (tea, chocolate, soda) completely from your diet when you have urinary incontinence. Giving up your daily “cup of joe” can be difficult because caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches and fatigue. A slow taper may make this process more manageable. If you can’t give it up completely, cut back to one cup of coffee a day and don’t drink it after 7 pm.
4. Spicy Foods
If you have urge incontinence (overactive bladder), you may want to avoid foods that contain hot peppers, chili powder, horseradish, or other pungent spices. Spicy foods can irritate the lining of the bladder and worsen the symptoms of incontinence. Again, pinpointing the spicy culprits is all about trial and error. Eliminate the prime suspects, then add them back one at a time until you identify the source.
5. Acidic Foods
If you have urinary incontinence, it’s wise to avoid acidic foods and drinks, including tomatoes, orange juice, cranberry juice, and other items. Citrus-based foods and drinks are highly acidic and tend to irritate the bladder. Cranberry juice is often used to help bladder infections, but it does not help with overactive bladder and urge incontinence.
6. Carbonated Drinks
The carbon dioxide in carbonated drinks (with or without caffeine) can irritate a sensitive bladder, which can set off urge incontinence. Try to stick to natural beverages, like water or non-acidic fruit and vegetable juices.
Where to Begin
An elimination diet may feel like you’re giving up everything you love, but the likelihood is that you aren’t sensitive to everything on the list of top offenders. Begin by eliminating everything in your diet that you suspect may be causing problems. Once you’ve determined if this approach helps your symptoms, you can begin to add things back one at a time to see if you can tolerate small amounts. If your incontinence symptoms worsen, you will know that the item you added back to your diet is something you need to eliminate permanently. You may want to download and print our Diet Journal Page (PDF) to help keep track of what you’ve eaten and the side effects. Using trial and error, you’ll create a personal diet plan that works for you and your incontinence symptoms.
What are some foods and drinks that irritate your incontinence symptoms? What steps have you taken to modify your diet to avoid these items? Head over to our incontinence forum to share your experiences!