By Katherine Husk, Fellow, UNC Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery
Overactive bladder (OAB) affects more than 40% of women in the US, but the actual percentage is likely much higher. Unfortunately, many women do not seek treatment for OAB due to embarrassment or because they think it’s just a part of being a woman or of getting older. OAB symptoms include urinary urgency (feeling a sudden urge to go), urinary frequency (going to the bathroom more than 8 times in 24 hours), and having to wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. These symptoms can be experienced with or without urinary leakage/incontinence. While OAB is a common issue experienced by women, we do not know exactly what causes it. However, we do have an idea of what can help with these symptoms – starting with changing what you eat and drink!
Making dietary changes such as eliminating (or cutting down on) certain items can help symptoms of OAB. However, what works for one person may not work for another. Some women may be impacted more by a certain type of food or drink, and still others may find that even with making these changes, there is little change in their symptoms. The good news is that making these dietary changes is certainly not harmful and it’s something you can do at any time!
What foods or drinks should I avoid?
Bladder irritants are foods and drinks that increase your OAB symptoms. Try experimenting with decreasing or eliminating certain items on the list and keeping track of your symptoms so that you can see what works best for you.
Common bladder irritants:
- Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soda
- Carbonated beverages
- Food and drinks with artificial sweeteners (i.e. aspartame, saccharine)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Acidic items – particularly fruits and fruit juices (i.e. apples, apricots, citrus, cranberry, grapes, plums, nectarines, peaches, rhubarb, pineapple, strawberries, pomegranates, bananas, cantaloupe, avocado, tomatoes)
- Spicy foods
- Aged, canned, cured, processed or smoked meats and fish
- Certain milk and dairy products such as aged cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, and chocolate
- Other condiments/seasonings such as mayonnaise, soy sauce, salad dressing, vinegar
- Excessive fluid intake: While some sources recommend six 8 oz glasses of water per day this may be way too much. We recommend a moderate intake (drink when you are thirsty), drinking small sips throughout the day, and avoiding drinking later in the evening/before bedtime.