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6 Ways Diet May Worsen Urinary Incontinence

Adjust your diet, and your urinary incontinence may improve.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

While there is no formal "urinary incontinence diet," what you eat and drink can worsen your incontinence symptoms -- particularly if you have urge incontinence, also called overactive bladder.

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Most doctors advise people with urinary incontinence to avoid certain foods and drinks in their diets. But doctors also acknowledge that the same foods and beverages that bother one person may not bother another person at all. It's important to personalize your urinary incontinence diet.

You can do that by trial-and-error: Eliminate the foods and beverages you suspect are causing problems, then reintroduce them one by one to see if you can tolerate small amounts.

Here are six common urinary incontinence diet culprits:

1. Excessive Water and Urinary Incontinence

If you don't drink enough water, you can get dehydrated. But if you have incontinence and drink large quantities, that could also pose difficulties, says Jennifer Anger, MD, MPH, a urologist and assistant professor of urology at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

"Drinking the often recommended six to eight glasses of water a day could be a problem," she says. Eight 8-ounce glasses would total 64 ounces of fluids. She recommends limiting yourself to about a quart (32 ounces) or a quart and a half (48 ounces).

Managing fluids can help the symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence, says Amy Rosenman, MD, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

Stress incontinence is when you leak a bit of urine when there's pressure on your bladder, such as when you cough or sneeze. Urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder, is when you feel a sudden urge to urinate, and sometimes accidentally leak urine.

2. Alcoholic Beverages and Urinary Incontinence

If you have urge incontinence or mixed urinary incontinence (a combination of urge and stress), alcoholic beverages in your diet could be bad news, says Rosenman, the co-author of The Incontinence Solution.

"Alcohol has a direct effect on the bladder, reduces control and acts a bit as a diuretic so it causes dehydration," she says.

"Alcohol interferes neurologically with the control you have over your bladder," Rosenman tells WebMD. "It interferes with the neurological signals from the brain to the bladder [telling it when to go, when to hold urine, and so on]. If you have alcohol on board, there is less control over that signaling and you are more likely to have an accident."

While some people with urinary incontinence cut alcohol out of their diet altogether, some can tolerate small quantities, she says. "Cut back as much as you can," she advises. "Or eliminate alcohol for a couple weeks and then figure out how much you can tolerate [by re-introducing it gradually]," Rosenman says.

Rosenman remembers one patient who drank daily, despite incontinence problems. After Rosenman told her how alcohol affected her bladder control, the woman decided to abstain. "Her bladder got better," she says.

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