Alleviate Incontinence by Avoiding Triggers

Urinary incontinence, which causes you to accidentally leak urine, can happen to anyone, although it's more common in females than in males. The good news is that there are lifestyle changes that can help with these conditions. Learn what the triggers are so you can avoid overdoing things that might cause trouble.

"Mild urinary leakage affects most women at some time in our lives," Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City, told Health. "Although it is more common in older women, younger women may experience leakage as well."

You may have stress incontinence, which happens when physical movement like coughing or laughing puts stress on your bladder. Or you may have urge incontinence, which is associated with a sudden strong desire to urinate.

High Fluid Intake

It's no surprise that too many drinks—whether water, milk, or other beverages—can be a problem for people with incontinence.

However, you can't stop incontinence by severely cutting back on fluids. This can lead to dehydration, constipation, and kidney stones, which can actually irritate your bladder and make symptoms worse.

It's important to get the right balance, said Dr. Rosser, who recommended about two liters of fluid a day, which is eight 8-ounce glasses. (The right amount depends on your lean body mass.)

If you're prone to nighttime incontinence, cut back your fluid intake in the evening.


Alcohol is a diuretic. It causes you to produce more urine, which can contribute to urge incontinence. And it can irritate the bladder, which is a problem for those with overactive bladder.

"Limiting the amount of alcohol you consume to one drink a day can help," John L. Phillips, MD, program director of urology at New York Medical College, in Valhalla, NY, told Health.

Coffee and Tea

Coffee and non-herbal tea contain caffeine, which, like alcohol, is both a diuretic and a bladder irritant.

"Caffeine is implicated in directly causing irritation of the bladder lining. People who do have bladder problems, on average, do better if they reduce their caffeine consumption, so it's the first thing we look at," said Dr. Phillips.

Keep in mind that decaf coffee and tea contain small amounts of caffeine. And when you cut back, do so slowly to avoid headaches and other withdrawal symptoms.


Controlling your sweet tooth may also help you control your bladder.

Sugary food can aggravate your bladder, and artificial sweeteners may also be a trigger, according to the National Assocation for Continence.

But that doesn't mean you have to cut out sweets completely. "Sugar is enjoyable—just make it part of a balanced diet," said Dr. Phillips.

Fizzy Drinks

There is some evidence that carbonated drinks may also worsen bladder issues, according to a 2017 study in Neurourology and Urodynamics.

"When someone is suffering from incontinence, we suggest cutting artificial foods and colorings, chemicals, and caffeine, and trying to stick to a more natural diet, filled with natural antioxidants and vitamins, including fruits and vegetables, and water," said Dr. Phillips.

Try eliminating bubbly beverages—even those without caffeine—to see if it helps.

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods may also be worth avoiding.

"There are certain foods that are triggers for people with incontinence or overactive bladders, including spicy foods, which doctors have identified as common irritants for women," Kristen Burns, an adult urology nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, told Health.

"The best thing is to avoid foods and drinks if you notice they are a problem for you."

Citrus Fruits

They may provide vitamin C, but citrus fruits and drinks can be a problem for people with urge incontinence.

Acidic foods and beverages, such as grapefruits, oranges, limes, lemons, and even tomatoes, can irritate your bladder, and may worsen incontinence symptoms.

"The bladder muscle has all kinds of nerves that can be affected by irritants, like acidic foods, which can exacerbate urgency symptoms," said Burns.

Cranberry Juice

Because it's often used to help control urinary tract infections (UTIs), many people wrongly assume that cranberry juice can also help with an overactive bladder. Unfortunately, it can actually make incontinence worse, due to its acidic pH.

"Cranberry juice (unless you have frequent UTIs and want to prevent infections) is not a good choice for someone who already has an irritable bladder, because of its acidic content," said Burns.


Certain heart medications, blood pressure-lowering drugs, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other drugs can make incontinence worse.

"Diuretics remove excess fluid from the body so the heart and other organs can function more efficiently," said Dr. Rosser. "This leads to an increased fluid load to the bladder."

Talk with your healthcare provider about whether your prescription medications might be contributing to incontinence—but don't cut back or stop taking them on your own.

Also, try to avoid caffeine-containing medication in general, such as Excedrin.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles