Technically speaking, urinary incontinence is a symptom caused by something else happening in the body. You may notice bladder leaks when coughing, sneezing, running or exercising. If you have urge incontinence, you may experience sudden, uncontrollable urges to go to the bathroom. The more common causes for women include childbirth, hysterectomy or menopause, as all of these life events can affect the pelvic floor.
Although diet may not be a cause of incontinence itself, there are certain foods, beverages and medications that can exacerbate your symptoms and make you even more prone to bladder leaks and uncontrollable urges.
The more well-known dietary culprits are diuretics, which remove fluids from your system. Once removed, these fluids end up in your bladder, increasing the frequency of bathroom breaks and contributing to the chance of leaks. The most common diuretics in our diets are alcohol, coffee and caffeinated tea or soda. Be sure to also check the label before consuming vitamin waters and other beverages advertised as “health” drinks; some of these also contain caffeine. It’s sometimes how they give you a quick energy boost.
Not all sodas contain caffeine, but there is some evidence to suggest carbonated beverages, including sparkling water, can irritate the bladder. This may be due to the fact that carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid. It’s a very weak acid, but acidic beverages, such as citrus juices, can also irritate your bladder. If you experience urinary incontinence, you don’t have to cut out carbonated drinks and citrus juice, but you may want to reduce your intake to see if it helps.
Some medications, including muscle relaxants, sedatives and heart or blood pressure medications, may influence incontinence. You should inform your doctor if you experience incontinence when discussing any of these medications so that it will be taken into consideration, and you can discuss how you may manage your incontinence.
Some patients report that spicy foods, sugary foods or chocolate affects their bladder as well. If you think these foods might affect you, you can keep a diary of these foods and when you experience bladder leaks to see if there are any patterns.
While it can be beneficial to understand which foods may influence your symptoms, it’s important to remember that your diet is not likely to be the sole cause of incontinence. Managing your diet may be part of managing your symptoms, but if incontinence is affecting your regular activities (such as preventing you from running or taking long walks for fear of needing a bathroom) then you should probably speak to a doctor about treatment options.