Dietary Triggers of Urinary Incontinence

January 05,2022 |
Woman pouring a cup of coffee.

Urinary incontinence is a common urologic condition that can be caused by several different factors. It can be temporary or an ongoing problem and often ranges in severity based on circumstances such as activity level, diet, and stress. While incontinence in and of itself is not serious, it’s important to understand what’s causing the problem to create a targeted treatment plan and improve your overall quality of life. After you’ve seen your doctor and ruled out any underlying conditions that may be causing the problem, it’s time to consider your diet. Certain foods and beverages can trigger symptoms and cause incontinence to worsen. To help you better understand how to control your bladder, here we’ll discuss some common dietary triggers of urinary incontinence.

What is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence occurs when the urinary tract system isn’t performing as it should. After your kidneys filter blood, urine begins to fill the bladder. When it becomes full, your brain receives the signal that it’s time to use the bathroom and you intentionally empty your bladder. Incontinence occurs when this process happens unintentionally. The main types of urinary incontinence include stress, urge, overflow, functional, and mixed incontinence.


  • Stress Incontinence – this type of incontinence occurs when added pressure is placed on your bladder by things like coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting heavy objects, or exercising.


  • Urge Incontinence – commonly referred to as overactive bladder, urge incontinence occurs when you experience a sudden and intense urge to urinate and are unable to find a bathroom in time.


  • Overflow Incontinence – this occurs when you’re unable to completely empty your bladder, which can increase the occurrence of urine leakage throughout the day.


  • Functional Incontinence – incontinence is deemed functional when it occurs due to physical or mental impairment that can make it difficult to use the bathroom in time.


  • Mixed Incontinence – if an individual experiences both stress and urge incontinence, it’s often referred to as mixed incontinence.


Incontinence can be either temporary or chronic, and often occurs at different times throughout your life. Identifying the cause of the problem can help you find relief from symptoms.


8 of the Most Common Dietary Triggers of Urinary Incontinence

Everything that you consume affects your body in one way or another. Consuming certain foods and beverages provide fuel for your cells and give you the energy you need to function. However, some foods and beverages act the opposite and instead, provide fuel to incontinence issues. The key is to listen to your body and determine which foods and drinks are problematic. To begin, consider some of these common dietary triggers of urinary incontinence.


  1. Caffeine

    Caffeine is one of the most common bladder irritants that can trigger urinary incontinence. It substantially increases bladder activity as it stimulates the muscles to contract. This can lead to problems with incontinence and also increases urgency and frequency. Even small reductions in caffeine consumption can help you alleviate symptoms of urinary incontinence, so try your best to cut back.

    Our tolerance to caffeine can increase, thus reducing its overall efficacy without altering the impact it has on bodily systems. If you rely on coffee to get you through the day, try to restrict consumption to one cup in the morning. Whenever possible, skip the coffee and energize your body with a healthy, nutritious breakfast or smoothie instead.


  2. Alcohol

    Alcohol is another problematic trigger of urinary incontinence. In clinical studies, alcohol has been shown to act as a stimulant, which can drastically increase symptoms of urgency. Individuals who consume one or more alcoholic beverages also notice an increase in frequency of urination, due to its diuretic properties. Depending on the number of drinks consumed, alcohol may interfere with your ability to notice urges, thus increasing you risk of accidents or leaks. Try to limit your consumption of alcohol or cut it out completely.


  3. Carbonation

    While healthy variations of carbonated drinks are readily available in the grocery store, they may cause problems to individuals with sensitive bladders. Even if your carbonated drinks aren’t filled with sweeteners or chemicals, the bubbles and fizz can trigger urinary incontinence symptoms. Consider limiting consumption of seltzer water, club soda, soda pop, and anything else that has carbonation to alleviate your symptoms.


  4. Artificial Sweeteners

    It’s been found that certain artificial sweeteners can negatively affect the overall function of the bladder, thus worsening urinary incontinence. Artificial sweeteners to avoid include sodium saccharine, acesulfame K, and aspartame.


  5. Spicy Foods

    Spicy foods are a common trigger that can irritate the bladder and digestive system concurrently. Some people are more sensitive to spices than others, so try to determine your tolerance level and reduce the number of spicy foods in your diet. This includes salsas, hot sauces, and certain peppers. You can experiment with each type of spicy food to better understand how your body reacts. If you notice that your incontinence symptoms are triggered by salsa, but not other spicy foods, tomatoes may be the culprit.


  6. Citrus Foods

    Citric acid can cause problems with bladder control and increase incontinence in certain individuals. Some of the most common acidic food that contribute to bladder problems are lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. Substitute these for other fruits to get your recommended daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals.


  7. Dairy Products

    A lot of people have problems processing lactose, so it’s no surprise that dairy is a reported trigger of urinary incontinence. Some people have noticed that milk and dairy are especially problematic with overactive bladder syndrome so it may be beneficial to consider going dairy-free. Try reducing your intake of milk, cheese, and other products that are high in lactose to reduce symptoms of incontinence.


  8. Processed Food

The artificial ingredients that are present in processed foods can be difficult for our bodies to break down. Certain preservatives can irritate the bladder and worsen urinary incontinence symptoms. Eating more whole foods will not only help alleviate your symptoms, but it will also help you live a healthier life.


While it’s important that you remain properly hydrated throughout the day, consuming an excessive amount of fluid at once can be another trigger for urinary incontinence. Instead of dehydrating yourself, try to drink water consistently throughout the day in small amounts. Taking small sips regularly will help ensure that your body has the water it needs to function without causing stress to your urinary system. In an effort to avoid interruptions to your sleep, try to drink more fluids early in the morning and slowly start to reduce consumption as the day goes on.

Each individual is different, which is why it’s important to determine your triggers through an elimination diet. Remove all of the irritants listed above for at least two weeks. This will give your body the chance to clear everything and stabilize. Next, slowly begin to reintroduce each item back into your diet using a food diary. During this time, make sure that you record your symptoms and how you feel after consuming a food or drink that may irritate the bladder. While some people are severely affected by spicy foods and dairy, others may notice that their symptoms only worsen when they drink alcohol. Work with your doctor to clearly identify your triggers and consider removing them from your diet to alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life.

You can still consume irritants in moderation, but in doing so you should be prepared to experience symptoms of urinary incontinence. To ensure that you’re fueling your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to function, always aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet that’s filled with plenty of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. Fiber can also help stabilize your digestive tract and improve your overall health.

Treatment for Urinary Incontinence

Since urinary incontinence is common and can be caused by several different factors, seeking treatment is important to rule out serious, underlying causes and improve your overall quality of life. Working with your doctor to make healthy lifestyle changes is one of the best ways to combat urinary incontinence issues, especially when it comes to identifying dietary triggers. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, there are other options. With the use of medications, bladder training, and various other procedures, your doctor will help you find relief from troublesome urinary incontinence symptoms. Treatment among women and men may vary slightly, so always discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor.

To support healthy, active lifestyles, Byram Healthcare has a wide selection of high-quality incontinence products available for discreet delivery. To learn more, or to speak with a professional regarding incontinence questions and ongoing management, contact Byram Healthcare today.