Food and Drink to Tame an Overactive Bladder

If you have an overactive bladder (OAB) with urge incontinence, food and drink can make a big difference in your symptoms. There is no OAB diet. But sometimes what you drink or eat can aggravate symptoms. And sometimes how much you eat or drink can make them worse, too.

Try these tips to help you calm your urge incontinence symptoms.

OAB: What to Drink and When

First, make water your preferred beverage. Added ingredients in sodas and energy drinks, and caffeine in coffee, may aggravate an overactive bladder.

Staying hydrated is important to overall health. But for people with OAB, choosing how much and when to drink to essential. The old saying about drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day? A healthy adult may not need that much. The American Urogynecologic Society suggests drinking water when you're thirsty.

Here are six tips for managing your fluid intake:

  • Spread out fluid intake throughout the day, sipping water between meals.
  • Unless exercising, don't carry a large water bottle with you.
  • Fill your cup or glass half-way or use a smaller cup.
  • Sip, don't gulp.
  • If you're drinking enough water, your urine should be light yellow or almost colorless.
  • Remember that you also get fluids in other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and soups.

 See your doctor if you have pain or burning with urination, or if your urine is cloudy, dark, or smells strong.

OAB: Drinks That May Increase the Urge to Go

One of the biggest OAB culprits is caffeine, which can make you urinate more. Studies show that reducing caffeine intake to below 100 milligrams per day -- the amount in one cup of drip coffee -- may help reduce urge incontinence symptoms.

Cut down or cut out these problem beverages:

  • Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, colas, energy drinks, and teas
  • Acidic fruit juices, especially orange, grapefruit, and tomato
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Carbonated beverages, sodas, or seltzers
  • Drinks with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, which may irritate the bladder

If you can't imagine starting your day without a morning cup of coffee, try to lower the amount of caffeine you take in. Make a cup that's half decaf and half regular. You may want to wean yourself gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches.

For fruit juice, try switching to something with less acid, such as apple or pear juice, and dilute it with water.

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OAB Foods to Avoid

Some people find that certain foods or beverages seem to make their OAB symptoms worse.

If you feel that any of these potential problem foods make your urge incontinence symptoms worse, see if eliminating or cutting them back helps:

  • Acidic foods. Citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit), tomatoes, and tomato products (like tomato sauce or salsa) are among the chief reported offenders.

Solution: Eat more fruits that are less acidic, such as pears or blueberries. They're also high in disease-fighting antioxidants. If you like lemon in your water, try adding a twist or thin slice. You'll get the hint of the fresh fruit flavor without the acid.

  • Highly spiced foods. Some people say chilies or wasabi wreaks havoc on their bladder.

Solution: Cut back on the spices little by little and see if your symptoms get better.

  • Artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, saccharin, and other artificial sweeteners aren't just in beverages -- they are also added to foods.

Solution: Read the labels of pre-packaged foods and eat those with artificial sweeteners in moderation.

Solution: Skip the jumbo candy bar. Stick with one chocolate kiss. (It's better for your waistline, too.)

  • Salty foods. Potato chips, salted nuts, and other salty foods can cause the body to retain water, which eventually goes to the bladder. They also make you thirstier, so you're likely to drink more liquids.

Solution: Switch to low- or no-salt snacks.

If you feel that something in your diet is hampering your attempts to manage your urge incontinence, but you don't know what it is, try keeping a bladder diary. This is basically a daily record of what and when you eat and drink, and your urination patterns.

Another option is trying an elimination diet. Remove one item -- tomatoes, for example -- from your meals for a week. If your symptoms get better, make a note of it. Gradually add back small amounts of that food until you notice your symptoms come back. You may be able to enjoy the food in modest amounts while avoiding irritating side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on October 23, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Urological Association Foundation: "A Basic Guide to Bladder Health."

American Urogynecologic Society: "Lifestyle and Behavioral Changes: Improving Urinary Urgency, Frequency and Urge Incontinence."

National Association for Continence: "Urgency Urinary Incontinence/Overactive Bladder: Dietary Changes."

National Toxicology Program: "Caffeine."

Gregory A. Kitagawa, MD, assistant professor, department of reproductive biology, Case Western Reserve University; ob-gyn, MetroHealth Medical Center; Cleveland.

American Dietetic Association: "Kidney Disease and Diet."

Duke University Health System: "Incontinence Management Treatments: Fluid and Dietary Modifications."

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Urinary Tract Infections in Adults."

Cleveland Clinic: "Bladder Irritating Foods."

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