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How to Adjust Your Daily Routine for a Healthier Bladder
Overactive bladder (OAB) is a pretty common disorder that stems from a variety of causes. The chronic symptoms can disrupt your routine, and while OAB isn’t your fault, your daily decisions might be making it much more difficult to live with than it needs to be.
Everything that goes into your body can affect every part of your body, including your bladder. Although stress and physical trauma do play roles in some cases of OAB, what you eat, drink and otherwise consume are more common bladder irritants. Find out if your daily routine could be sabotaging your efforts to deal with your OAB, and where to make changes for immediate and long-term improvements.
Food and Drink to Avoid
What you eat and drink will move through your digestive tract, eventually filter through your kidneys and drain into your bladder. Since certain foods and beverages move through your body at different rates, affecting nerves and tissues differently, some are bound to worsen your OAB.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Both alcoholic and caffeinated drinks are diuretics, which means they encourage your kidneys to produce urine, and will stimulate your bladder to empty more frequently. It goes without saying that heavy drinking and constant coffee consumption is off-limits, but even small amounts of either type of beverage can spell trouble for OAB sufferers.
Cutting back to 100mg of caffeine a day (one small cup of coffee) can help a lot, but you might find that you need to eliminate alcohol altogether if it’s bugging your bladder too much. In any case, get out of the habit of drinking booze at night — even one drink before bed can make nighttime urination worse.
That plate of hot wings may seem harmless enough, but don’t be fooled. Spicy foods like hot peppers, horseradish and curry that make your mouth burn can irritate your bladder as much as your mouth. The irritating compounds can aggravate your bladder lining and worsen the urge to go.
It can be difficult to give up spice, especially if you’ve developed a taste for the lingering heat, but you can replace it with other flavorful ingredients. Herbs should be your new ally in the kitchen, since they are as healthy (and gentle) as they are tasty.
The natural acid in certain foods can irritate the nerves in your bladder, so it’s best to avoid citrus, tomatoes, and many berries in order to reduce bladder spasms.
Cranberries are particularly problematic: since cranberry juice is traditionally used to fight off urinary tract infections (UTIs), many people assume it’s generally good for bladder function. However, it can be a real irritant and altogether unhelpful if you’re struggling with OAB rather than an infection. The diuretic action — which is so helpful for urinary tract infections — will make you go to the bathroom more often.
Sugar can mess with a variety of processes in your body, including your bladder function, and artificial sweeteners are just as bad as the natural variety. Some research suggests that honey, fructose, and other natural sugary additives can aggravate the bladder muscle, while artificial sweeteners like Splenda worsen urge incontinence.
Some people find eating foods with gluten (namely, grains like wheat, rye and barley) also makes their OAB symptoms flare, which could point to a gluten sensitivity or allergy. Although the stomach and intestines are more frequently the site of gluten-related problems, it’s not uncommon to notice symptoms like urge incontinence and frequent urination, too.
Revamp Your Bathroom Habits
When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go — or do you? The way you cater to your urge, frequency, and other OAB symptoms can make a big difference in your long-term comfort and control. You may feel like your bladder makes the rules, but by adjusting your response you could help strengthen all your surrounding muscles and make life a lot more comfortable (and less embarrassing).
Did you know that OAB and constipation can be related? While they are different conditions, they can play off each other to worsen symptoms.
Don’t Give in Too Soon
A big part of building and training your bladder is teaching your body to hold urine until you find an appropriate time to visit the toilet. This means that while it can be pretty uncomfortable at first, forcing yourself to “hold it” can help re-wire your nerves and muscles to ease OAB symptoms.
When you practice holding your urine, you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles — the strong band of muscle at the base of your pelvis. The stronger these muscles, the more control you’ll have over leakage and urge to urinate. The key is to make a schedule for visiting the bathroom, gradually extending the time between visits by a few minutes until your bladder learns to relax and stay sealed.
Don't Cut Down on Liquids to Avoid Bathroom Visits
Since drinking a lot of liquid will surely make you use the washroom more often, the obvious solution is to drink less liquid. But that preventative measure can backfire, since the less you drink, the more concentrated your urine will become, and the more concentrated your urine, the more it will irritate the lining of your bladder.
In the worst cases, cutting back on fluids will lead to constipation, kidney stones and bladder infections. You’ll want to find the right level of hydration for you, which might take some trial and error, but experts suggest it’s around eight to 10 glasses of water a day for people at a healthy weight.
Check Your Medication
Drugs tend to bring side effects, so it’s not uncommon to worsen one condition while you attempt to control another with medication. When it comes to OAB, a few categories of drugs are known to cause trouble.
Some antidepressants can interfere with your bladder’s ability to empty itself completely, and that can lead to more leakage and more nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Did your OAB start after you began taking antidepressants? The medication might be at the root of your bladder issues.
High Blood Pressure Meds
High blood pressure can call for medical action, and often the best solution is a diuretic to drain extra fluid in your body so your heart can work more efficiently. As you experience diuresis — where your kidneys produce more urine more often — your urge to urinate will be much more intense.
However, it’s crucial you talk to your doctor before you stop taking high blood pressure medication, even if OAB symptoms complicate matters.
Your sleeping aid could be triggering nighttime incontinence, which is sure to cause more stress in the morning. Common medications used to lull your brain into a deep sleep can directly and indirectly interfere with your natural bladder response: first, you may sleep so deeply that the urge to urinate won’t wake you up, and secondly, the drugs can relax the urethral sphincter to let urine pass through.
Long-term use of sleeping pills is generally not a good idea anyway, so turn your attention to improving your sleep naturally rather than knocking yourself out with medication. Sleep hygiene is important, but your stress level, activity level and diet can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, too. Take a closer look at how you might be able to help your brain switch off at night without the help of medication.
Pay Close Attention to Everything
All sorts of everyday habits, obligations and indulgences can interfere with your bladder health, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on the little things that could be making big problems.
Get used to reading labels to avoid troublesome ingredients (for instance, a lot of everyday headache medicines include caffeine), and consider using an elimination diet to pinpoint bladder irritants that may be hiding in your weekly menu. Finally, don’t give up on your physiotherapy — strengthening your pelvic muscles is just as important as giving up bad dietary habits for the good of your bladder.