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Bladder Irritants

Updated: Feb 18

What Are Bladder Irritants. Image displays a bladder surrounded by irritants including milk, coffee, citrus fruits, alcohol, medication, and cigarettes

If you have frequent symptoms of a urinary tract infection, like burning, urinary frequency, or urinary urgency, your doctor will most likely order some testing to check for bacteria. If however, your doctor says the urine culture came back negative for an infection, throwing more antibiotics at your body probably isn't the answer.

Patients often aren't sure where to turn next. Some people who chronically struggle with urinary frequency will even try restricting water to avoid having to go to the bathroom as often. Unfortunately, this can actually make the problem worse because the chemical irritants become more concentrated in your bladder. This can trigger urges to empty the bladder to get rid of the chemicals.

While working with a pelvic floor therapist that focuses on the influence that your nerves and your muscles have on your urinary symptoms is a great place to start, there are some things you can do on your own. It is important to learn what makes your bladder tick. While we all have a few "pet peeves", some of our bladders are more sensitive than others.

Most common irritants:

  • Alcohol (wine, beer, liquor)

  • Artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, etc.)

  • Chocolate

  • Coffee (with or without caffeine)

  • Colas/soft drinks/carbonated beverages

  • Tea (with or without caffeine, especially black and green)

  • Tobacco/cigarettes

Other potential irritants

  • Acidic foods

  • Caffeine

  • Citrus fruits and juices: oranges, lemons

  • Dairy: cheese (especially aged cheeses), milk, sour cream, and yogurt

  • Fruits and juices: apples, bananas, cantaloupe, cranberries, figs, grapes, guava, peaches, pineapple, plums, prunes, raisins, and strawberries

  • Grains: brewer's yeast, rye and sourdough breads

  • Meats/fish: chicken livers, corned beef, pickled herring

  • Medications and supplements: check with your pharmacist about your specific medications and supplements

  • Muscles: trigger points in your pelvic floor muscles can trigger urges to go to the bathroom

  • Nuts: hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts

  • Sauces/condiments: hot sauces, mayonnaise, soy sauce, vinegar

  • Vegetables: chili peppers, fava beans, lima beans, onions, peppers, tomatoes

Most people don't want to give up all of those things forever, and many people don't need to in order to feel better. While the bolded items above irritate almost everyone's bladder, the other irritants can vary from one person to another. Most of us don't want to give up more than we have to, so how can you know which ones aggravate your bladder?

  1. Start with an elimination diet for 7-10 days. During that time, the goal is to cut out all of the things listed above. You will likely find that you feel better and have less urinary frequency at that time.

  2. Once all the irritants are out of your system, choose one at a time to add back into your diet. As you add them back in one by one, pay attention to your bladder habits. Look for patterns of which foods/drinks make you have to go more often.

  3. Decide how strict you want to be. Some people find that they don't enjoy alcohol enough to keep drinking it. Others really enjoy a glass of wine with a nice meal, and decide that on special occasions, it's worth the consequences of needing to go to the bathroom shortly after dinner.

It is ultimately up to you to decide how much you want to restrict your dietary intake of certain foods and drinks. The goal of identifying bladder irritants is to help you make educated choices about what you consume, not to take all the fun out of your diet.

So what are some tips for getting started?

  1. Keep a bladder log. You may want to write down how often you are going so you can get a sense of what your normal is during the elimination phase. Then you'll have something to compare to when you start adding foods back in one at a time.

  2. During your elimination period, it's easiest to commit to only drinking regular water.

  3. Limit the number of pre-made processed foods you eat. They tend to be higher in artificial sweeteners.

  4. Plan to cook at home for the week and make yourself a meal plan. Eating out gives you less control of what goes into your food and makes you less aware of all the ingredients. Remember, this isn't permanent, just a temporary diet for one week.

If a full elimination diet is too much for you, you can always try eliminating the irritants one at a time and monitoring your symptoms. It may be more difficult for you to determine what is causing the symptom change with this method, but it can still be helpful in identifying the irritants that bother you the most.

Lastly, keep in mind that this article is to be used for educational purposes and is not intended to replace individual medical advice from a licensed medical provider. There are many ways to treat bladder irritation, including dietary changes, pelvic floor physical therapy, and medications, to name a few. You are encouraged to work with a medical professional to determine the best treatments for your body.

How did your elimination diet go? We'd love to hear from you; comment below to share your story.

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