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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Incontinence (Overactive Bladder)
What are You Eating? Does it Matter?

By Karen Best Wright, B.S., M.A. Health & Wellness Educator

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The types of food and drink you consume have an effect on the bladder. Some foods and drinks increase the amount of urine your bodies produce and some stimulate the bladder. Learning which foods and beverages affect you and either reducing or eliminating them when necessary can help in managing incontinence aggravated by them. Always use common sense, especially when it comes to fluid intake. The goal is not to be able to go all day without going to the bathroom. The goal is to not be wetting your pants every hour or so.

Caffeine
Caffeine stimulates the bladder and acts as a diuretic, producing more urine. So if you are going to be away from a bathroom for an extended period of time avoid the caffeine. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some sodas such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Mountain Dew, as well as chocolate. Avoiding caffeinated beverages in the evening will also reduce the number of nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Too Much Liquid
Staying hydrated, especially in hot weather, is very important. But if you have a problem with urinary urge incontinence, also called overactive bladder, limit your fluid intake to about 2 liters (about 2 quarts) daily.

Too Little Liquid
While reducing fluid may help with urinary urge incontinence, too liquid fluid can actually irritate the bladder, promoting infection. A urinary tract infection can cause incontinence. Finding the right balance between too little and too much fluid is necessary for over-all health.

Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol is dehydrating, whether it is beer, wine, or liquor. It is dehydrating by increasing the amount of urine, causing you to go to the bathroom more. Alcohol also interferes with the brain signals to the bladder indicating when to release urine. If you suffer from urinary urge incontinence, cut down on or eliminate alcohol.

Acidic Foods and Beverages
Caffeinated beverages are more well known to cause more frequent trips to the bathroom. Acidic beverages are less obvious. Citrus fruits and juices, coffee, tea, tomatoes, and cranberry juice are acidic and can irritate the bladder. If your urinary incontinence problem is caused by an overactive bladder, try cutting back on them. Cranberry juice (real cranberry juice) may help with urinary tract infections, but it can still irritate the bladder, so it will not help with an overactive bladder. Reducing or eliminating acidic foods and beverages may also help reduce heartburn.

Carbonated Beverages
Carbonated drinks may irritate sensitive bladders. So if you have an overactive bladder eliminate the carbonated beverages. They are useless calories anyway.

Spicy Foods
If your diet consists of a lot of spicy foods, try cutting back on the spices to see if this helps with your overactive bladder. Spicy foods can irritate the bladder. Experiment to determine how your body reacts to spicy foods. At least you will know what not to eat when you go out to dine.

Sweeteners
All sweeteners, artificial and natural, can irritate the bladder. Limit sugar, honey, and artificial sweeteners if you need to limit your bathroom trips. As with other foods, people respond differently. Experiment to learn whether or not sweetened foods affect you.

Balance Your Foods
Learning what foods affect your overactive bladder can help you balance what you eat. You may not need to eliminate all of your favorite foods, but you may not want to have coffee and orange juice for breakfast, a soda with your candy bar, and spicy Mexican food for dinner, all in the same day.

Medications and Bladder Problems
While medications aren’t foods or beverages, some make urinary incontinence worse. Some blood pressure medications relax the bladder and increase urine and some anti-depressants make it harder for the bladder to contract. Muscle relaxants relax the bladder and sleeping pills may inhibit your awareness that the bladder is full. If you are taking medications and also have a problem with overactive bladder, talk to your doctor about possible side-effects. You may even have a side-effect that is not common in other people.

Learn for Yourself

People are different and how different foods, beverages, and even medications affect people will vary. Always pay attention to what you are consuming and how your bladder is behaving. You are the one who will best be able to tell what makes your overactive bladder worse. Often doctors do not even ask their patients with chronic problems, “What are you eating?” You may have to figure this out on your own and then discuss it with your doctor if you need to. When you do figure out what makes your problem worse and your doctor says, “I’ve never heard of that,” don’t get discouraged. Unfortunately doctors don’t know everything.

If an overactive bladder is a problem for you, investigate. Find out what is contributing to your problem, whether it is the foods and beverages you consume, the medications you are on, or the emotional stress you are experiencing. You are ultimately responsible for and in control of your own health.

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Karen Best Wright

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