12 Everyday Items That Can Irritate the Bladder

Menopause and stress incontinence, or a leaky or irritable bladder, seem to go together. But you could help yourself by looking at your diet.


Overactive bladder, sometimes known as urge incontinence, is a problem that results in a sudden urge to urinate and potentially incontinence as well.

There are a number of factors that are known to affect this condition. For instance how much fluid you regularly drink because obviously the more you drink, the more you will have to urinate.

Smoking is a factor as well, as it irritates the bladder muscle, and the spasms caused by smoker’s cough can result in urine leakage.

It is possible for certain foods to worsen this condition, potentially irritating the bladder or the urinary tract and exacerbating symptoms.

The effects of various foods on an overactive bladder vary from person to person and so some may be a problem for you but others have no effect so you are going to have to do some experimentation to see which are worst, or neutral.

Keeping a food diary is a really good idea to track which problem foods really affect you and all the following can make your symptoms worse.

1. Tomatoes These are an acidic food that can potentially irritate the bladder and worsen your symptoms.

If you are particularly sensitive then its not just the fruit you need to cut out but products such as sauces on pizza and pasta, ketchup and salsa.

2. Coffee and Tea In both cases the problem is caffeine which can increase bladder activity, and can make symptoms worse. The result can be more urgency and frequency, as well as increased incontinence.

Switch to low caffeine items such as green or herb tea and/or drink decaffeinated varieties but watch your symptoms as if you are very sensitive you may be better to cut out caffeine altogether for a while.

3. Chocolate Another caffeine source, around a quarter of that found in a cup of coffee, so if chocolate is a must then the no caffeine option is white chocolate or a really small amount of dark chocolate, with a high cocoa content, might satisfy the urge to indulge.

4. Oranges, Limes, and Lemons Citrus fruits – which includes oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit – contain high amounts of citric acid, which can worsen bladder control.

You may find some give you more trouble than others so go for less acidic fruit such as apples or bananas.

5. Carbonated Drinks Any carbonated item from water to soft drinks can cause you a problem as the carbonation can potentially aggravate your symptoms.

Stick to plain squashes and water to see if this is a concern for you.

6. Alcoholic Drinks Alcohol can irritate the bladder and affect the signals to the brain that make you aware of bladder overflow so you may not realise until too late that you have to go.

The worst combination is alcohol and carbonation so avoid sparkling wines and champagne.

7. Spicy Foods You may love your curry, but the spices that stimulate your digestion in them can also irritate your bladder.

Be careful of spicy peppers and sauces, particularly spicy salsas, as they contain tomatoes, another potential irritant.

8. Sweeteners There is so much evidence against artificial sweeteners that this is just another to add to the list which already contains potential side effects such as migraines, change in vision, nausea and vomiting, insomnia and sleep problems, change in heart rate and depression.

So if ‘diet’ drinks feature heavily in your liquid intake then this could be the time to make a change. However, be aware that natural sweeteners can increase bladder symptoms as well so try to reduce your sugar intake from all sources.

9. Processed Foods These usually contain a cocktail of artificial ingredients including flavour additives, preservatives and chemical colourants and all these can irritate the bladder which will worsen your symptoms.

A diet of fresh foods, including vegetables and whole grains is the good alternative if you have an overactive bladder.

10. Onions Raw onions are the main problem and they can increase the urge to urinate so stick to cooked ones for the time being.

11. Cranberries Cranberry juice may relieve symptoms of urinary tract infections, and many women find it effective for that.

However, cranberries are acidic and can potentially irritate the bladder and cause urge incontinence.

12. Balanced Water Intake You might think your best strategy is to drink as little as possible to avoid having to go frequently to the toilet.

However, the reverse is true as not drinking enough will make your urine more concentrated and acidic, and that can cause an increased need to use the bathroom.

You also need sufficient fluid each day to avoid becoming constipated, so the key here is balance. Too much will mean more frequent urination, but around six 8-ounce glasses during the day is generally recommended.

Don’t drink in the evening to avoid losing sleep because of having to get up in the night for the bathroom.

Helpful information:

Stress incontinence is common at menopause, and for some women it can be helped with oestrogen as well as progesterone so a combined cream with both hormones might be a solution.

Progesterone can also help with your sleep at night and the anxiety this condition can bring which is related to stress incontinence.