Lifestyle changes can sometimes ease your urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control. For example, many doctors suggest cutting certain foods and drinks from your diet. But everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. The best way to find out what foods trigger your symptoms is to tackle one item at a time.
Here are six changes you can make right now.
Watch the Water
“If you don’t drink enough water, you can get dehydrated,” says Jennifer Anger, MD, MPH, assistant professor of urology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. “But if you have incontinence and drink [a lot], that could also pose difficulties.”
“Drinking the often-recommended six to eight glasses of water a day could be a problem,” Anger says.
On the flip side, if you drink too little water, your urine can become concentrated and may irritate your bladder. This makes you feel like you have to go.
Anger says to ask your doctor what would be a safe amount for you to drink.
Go Easy on Alcohol
“Alcohol has a direct effect on the bladder,” says Amy Rosenman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. It lowers your control over the organ and acts a bit as a diuretic -- meaning you need to go more often.
“It interferes with the neurological signals from the brain to the bladder [telling it when to hold urine and when to go]. If you have alcohol on board, there is less control over that signaling, and you are more likely to have an accident,” Rosenman says.
Most people decide to cut alcohol out completely, Rosenman says, but others can handle a small amount. It’s best to stop altogether, then add it back little by little, so you know how much is too much for you.
Cut Back on Caffeine
Caffeine is found in soft drinks, teas, chocolate, and even -- in small amounts -- decaf coffee. Not only does it make you feel like you have to go, but it also prompts your body to get rid of liquids. Your best bet: Remove caffeine from your diet if you can, and reduce it if you can’t go cold turkey.
Still crave that cup of joe? Have your coffee in the morning instead of at night. Don't drink any coffee past 7 p.m., Anger says. And limit yourself to one or two caffeinated beverages per day.
Cool It on Spicy Foods
If you have an overactive bladder, avoid eating spicy foods like Mexican, Chinese, chili peppers, chili, and horseradish.
Spicy foods irritate the lining of your bladder just like caffeine does, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a doctor and registered dietitian.
Citrus foods and juices -- like orange and pineapple -- have acid that can bother your bladder and make you feel like you have to go. Tomatoes are also full of acid. Cranberry juice is known for clearing up bladder infections, but it doesn’t help with overactive bladders, Rosenman says. Plus, cranberries, too, are acidic.
Can Carbonated Drinks
Even if carbonated drinks don’t have caffeine, they may not be a good choice for you, Rosenman says. “The carbon dioxide in the drink can irritate a sensitive bladder, causing you to have the urge to go.”
Diet isn’t the only thing that worsens overactive bladder symptoms and some incontinence. Other causes include weight gain, diabetes, pregnancy, constipation, aging, and certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about what’s going on, even if you feel embarrassed. You have to start the conversation so you can get treatment.