What Are Some Causes of Incontinence?

The causes aren't all related to drinks.

Young woman sitting on park bench drinking coffee

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Urinary incontinence, which causes you to leak urine accidentally, can happen to anyone—although it's more common in people assigned female at birth than people assigned male at birth.

"Mild urinary leakage affects most women at some time in our lives," Mary Rosser, MD, Ph.D., 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 also have stress incontinence when a 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.

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.

High Fluid Intake

Unsurprisingly, 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 irritate your bladder and make symptoms worse.

It's important to get the right balance, said Dr. Rosser. In general, you should aim to consume at least 2.7 to 3.6 liters (11.5 cups to 15.5 cups) of fluid from foods and drinks per day—water included. However, the amount of fluid you need will depend on certain factors (e.g., age, pregnancy status).

Also, cut back your fluid intake in the evening if you're prone to nighttime incontinence. A good rule of thumb is to finish any beverages at least two to four hours before bedtime.


Leaking urine can be the result of a person drinking alcohol. Alcohol is considered to be a diuretic. It causes you to produce more urine, which can contribute to urge incontinence. Alcohol can irritate the bladder too, which is a problem for those with overactive bladder.

But if you can drink alcohol, you don't have to give it up completely to reduce incontinence. "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. Like alcohol, caffeine can irritate your bladder and make you have to pee frequently or urgently.

"Caffeine is implicated in directly causing irritation of the bladder lining. On average, people who have bladder problems 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.

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 make incontinence worse. Acidic foods might bother your bladder—and cranberry juice has a very 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," Kristen Burns, an adult urology nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, told Health.

Fizzy Drinks

There is some evidence that carbonated drinks may also worsen bladder issues. Drinks with fizz that have other bladder irritants, like caffeine and sweeteners, may also worsen things.

"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 doing so helps.

Citrus Fruits

They may provide vitamin C, but citrus fruits and drinks can be problematic for people with urge incontinence. Some several acidic foods and beverages can irritate your bladder and worsen incontinence symptoms, such as:

  • Grapefruits
  • Oranges
  • Limes
  • Lemons
  • Tomatoes

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


Controlling your sweet tooth may also help you manage your bladder. Sugary food can aggravate your bladder, and artificial sweeteners may also be a trigger.

But that doesn't mean you have to let go of sweets. "Sugar is enjoyable—just make it part of a balanced diet," said Dr. Phillips. If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, try non-acidic fruits since they are naturally sweet. You could also consider splitting a dessert with someone.

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods may also be worth avoiding. They have been associated with irritated and inflamed bladders, sometimes resulting in urinary incontinence.

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


Some medications can make a person more likely to experience incontinence. Those medicines may include:

  • Certain heart medications
  • Blood pressure-lowering drugs
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Sedatives

"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 a healthcare provider about whether your prescription medications might contribute 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.

A Quick Review

Urinary incontinence can affect anybody, and there are a few causes. You can experience the conditions for reasons like drinking caffeine or fizzy drinks and eating sweets or spicy foods. If you find that you're still having issues related to urinary incontinence, consult a healthcare provider.

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9 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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