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Behavioral Modifications That Help You Manage Your Symptoms

October 3, 2016 | Mary South, MD, MHA

Most women with overactive bladder know that your bladder (detrusor muscle) may contract without permission. Decreasing bladder irritation can help you manage symptoms like urgency and frequency.


Since bladder irritants come in many forms—from diet to activity—and affect people differently, your first job is to identify which irritants are most troublesome for you personally. Below are some of the most common food and beverage diuretics and irritants:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomato products
  • Vinegar
  • Curry and other spicy foods
  • Cantaloupe, watermelon, asparagus, and cucumber
  • Alcohol

An elimination diet can help you uncover which foods and beverages are most irritating for you. Completely omit or significantly limit the irritants on the list for several weeks to get your bladder healthy, then
add one item back at a time into your diet to see if it triggers symptoms.

You may find that a seemingly innocent cup of coffee is what’s causing your bladder to misbehave…maybe it’s the occasional craving
for spicy Mexican food that exacerbates the problem. Once your bladder settles down again, you can reintroduce items in moderation.


Smoking has a direct link to a number of health issues, including bladder irritation. There are several reasons for this:

  • Chronic smokers’ cough exerts downward force with frequent damaging pressure on the bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor.
  • Nicotine can cause unnecessary bladder contractions, which contributes to urinary frequency.
  • Research suggests that cigarette smokers have an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Among other health-related reasons to quit smoking, it can also decrease symptoms of overactive bladder, reduce the risk of developing stress incontinence, and significantly reduce the chances of bladder cancer.


Do you remember how many trips you made to the bathroom before a big test at school or an important meeting with your boss? Stress (even good stress such as the birth of a child), anxiety, or a bad case of nerves can cause the bladder to be excessively active. As a result, symptoms of frequency and urgency can increase…probably not helping you in your effort to relax or de-stress! Additionally, stress can make it more difficult to control or stop strong urges from turning into leaks or a rush to the bathroom. You’ve heard this before, we know, and it’s easier said than done, but try to relax –it’s the doctor’s orders.


One of the most important things you can do to calm your bladder is to drink enough fluids. The bladder stretches as it fills and shrinks when it’s empty. If you don’t drink enough fluid, the functional capacity of your bladder will shrink. The less fluid you drink, the more concentrated the urine will become. Concentrated urine is more irritating to the bladder than dilute urine and, therefore, is more likely to cause bladder contractions and more trips
to the bathroom. It also encourages the growth of bacteria, which may lead to infections.

Drinking too much fluid can be a problem, too. Women are often advised to drink large amounts of fluid to stay healthy.  Overhydrating can actually change the pH of your urine and increase your risk of bladder infections.  In addition, if you drink a lot of excessive fluids you will naturally spend more time going to the bathroom.

The most important rule to remember is to drink when you are thirsty. And don’t forget that food contains a great deal of water as well, so depending on your diet and activity level, you may not need to drink as much as someone else to stay hydrated.

It can feel like a lot to manage at first, but implementing some of these behavior modifications can make you feel more in control, and it will eventually become second-nature.

Try this Voiding Diary to help you monitor and track your fluid intake.

Find more articles on Bladder Problems