Bladder control: Lifestyle strategies ease problems

Simple lifestyle changes may improve bladder control or enhance response to medication. Find out what you can do to help with your bladder control problem.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you've been struggling with the embarrassment and discomfort of a bladder control problem, you may be looking for ways to improve it. Fortunately, there are simple strategies you can try.

Doctors often call these strategies lifestyle modifications or behavior therapies. They're safe, easy, effective and inexpensive. You can try these techniques before trying other types of treatment, such as medications or surgery, or in combination with them.

Focus on fluids and food

How much fluid you drink can influence your bladder habits, and so might certain foods you eat.

Too much fluid

Drinking too much fluid makes you urinate more often. Drinking too much too quickly can overwhelm your bladder, creating a strong sense of urgency.

Even if you need to drink more because you exercise a lot or work outdoors you don't have to drink all fluids at once. Try drinking smaller amounts throughout the day, such as 16 ounces (473 milliliters) at each meal and 8 ounces (237 milliliters) between meals.

If you get up several times at night to urinate:

  • Drink more of your fluids in the morning and afternoon rather than at night
  • Skip alcohol and beverages with caffeine, such as coffee, tea and cola, which increase urine production
  • Remember that fluids come not only from beverages, but also from foods such as soup

Too little fluid

Drinking too little fluid can lead to a buildup of body waste products in your urine. Highly concentrated urine is dark yellow and has a strong smell. It can irritate your bladder, increasing the urge and frequency with which you need to go.

Bladder irritants

Certain foods and beverages might irritate your bladder, including:

  • Coffee, tea and carbonated drinks, even without caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Certain acidic fruits — oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes — and fruit juices
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomato-based products
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Chocolate

Consider avoiding these possible bladder irritants for about a week to see if your symptoms improve. Then gradually — every one to two days — add one back into your diet, noting any changes in urinary urgency, frequency or incontinence.

You might not have to eliminate your favorite foods and drinks entirely. Simply cutting down on the amount might help, too.

Try bladder training

When you have an overactive bladder, you can get used to urinating frequently or at the slightest urge. Sometimes, you might visit the toilet when you don't have the urge because you want to avoid an accident. After a while, your bladder begins sending "full" messages to your brain even when it's not full, and you feel like you have to urinate.

Bladder training, or retraining, involves adjusting your habits. You go to the toilet on a set schedule — even if you have no urge to urinate — gradually increasing the time between urination. This allows your bladder to fill more fully and gives you more control over the urge to urinate.

A bladder-training program usually follows these basic steps:

  • Identify your pattern. For a few days, keep a diary in which you note every time you urinate. Your doctor can use this diary to help you make a schedule for your bladder training.
  • Extend your urination intervals. Using your bladder diary, determine the amount of time between urinating. Then extend that by 15 minutes. If you usually go every hour, try to extend that to an hour and 15 minutes.

    Gradually lengthen the time between trips to the toilet until you reach intervals of two to four hours. Be sure to increase your time limit slowly to give yourself the best chance for success.

  • Stick to your schedule. Once you've established a schedule, do your best to stick to it. Urinate immediately after you wake up in the morning. Thereafter, if an urge arises, but it's not time for you to go, try to wait it out. Distract yourself or use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.

    If you feel you're going to have an accident, go to the toilet but then return to your schedule.

Don't be discouraged if you don't succeed the first few times. Keep practicing, and your ability to maintain control is likely to increase.

July 18, 2017 See more In-depth