June 14, 2023

Foods and Drinks That Can Irritate Your Bladder

Eliminating certain items, like soda and citrus, can help relieve your bladder discomfort

carbonated drinks and alcoholic beverages

Your bladder is a balloon-like organ that’s tucked away behind your pelvic bone. It’s part of your urinary system, and it collects your urine until the time comes when you have to urinate (pee).

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It’s a dirty job: Your pee contains the liquid waste that’s filtered from your food by your kidneys. So, traces of what you eat and drink end up in your urine.

What is bladder irritation?

If you’re sensitive to anything you eat or drink, your urine can irritate your bladder. And just like any other part of your body, when your bladder gets irritated, it can act up.

You might notice:

  • You have a sudden strong urge to pee (urgency).
  • You need to pee more often (frequency).
  • You experience leakage (urge incontinence).
  • You have pain in your lower belly (abdomen).

Could bladder irritation be a sign of disease?

Most times, bladder irritation isn’t a medical emergency. But sometimes, bladder irritation can be caused by problems in your urinary tract. These include:

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI), which can cause short-term (temporary) discomfort and an urgent need to use the bathroom.
  • Interstitial cystitis (IC), a chronic (long-term) condition that causes your bladder wall to swell and creates ongoing bladder pain.
  • Very rarely, new bladder irritation can be a sign of a tumor in your bladder or urethra and a sign of urinary tract cancer.

Remember, if you’re running a fever, have chills, have pain in your lower back or side, or if you see blood in your urine, it’s time to see a healthcare provider.

Do certain foods irritate the bladder?

Your morning coffee, that after-work spritzer, even the tomato sauce on your pizza: All these foods — and many more — can irritate your bladder and trigger symptoms.

Some of these foods may be things you eat or drink often. Others may be ones you rarely touch.

Some foods may bother you when they’re raw, but not when they’re cooked.

And just in case you still aren’t entirely confused, there’s this: The triggers vary a lot from person to person. “What triggers my bladder symptoms may not trigger yours,” says dietitian Courtney Barth, RD, LD. As a result, “It can be a long process to figure out the cause of your particular situation.”

What foods and drinks can cause bladder irritation?

Still, some foods are more likely than others to be the culprits. Urologist Emily Slopnick, MD, tells her patients that the following items can often be the source of bladder irritation:

  • Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks.
  • Carbonated beverages, like soda.
  • Artificial sweeteners, found in diet sodas and many “reduced sugar” candies, baked goods, chewing gum and breakfast cereals.
  • Alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits.
  • Acidic foods, like citrus fruits and tomatoes.

Barth agrees. “The list of triggers is extremely individualized,” she emphasizes. “But one of the most common triggers is acidic foods, like tomatoes or orange juice. Coffee is also a big one because of the caffeine. Some people even find that chocolate can be a trigger because it contains caffeine. For many people, artificial sweeteners are a problem. And alcohol, as well, can be a trigger.”

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If you’re experiencing signs of bladder irritation, such as urinary frequency, urgency, leakage or pain, the food and drink categories above are a good place to start looking for your triggers.

How can I identify bladder-irritating foods and drinks?

Figuring out if a food irritates your bladder is a process of elimination. Again, it’s important to remember that not all people with bladder irritation are bothered by the same foods or drinks. But there are ways to figure out which foods or drinks may bother you.

A good place to start is with a food diary, Barth tells us. It can be your very best tool for keeping track of what you eat, what you drink and when you have symptoms of bladder irritation.

Here are some general guidelines for keeping a food diary:

  • Write down everything you eat and drink for three days. Barth suggests choosing two weekdays and a Saturday or Sunday, “Because sometimes what we eat and drink on the weekend is different than what we have during the week.”
  • At the same time, keep a record of your symptoms. “At the end of the day, document. Ask yourself how your bladder is doing. Is it painful? Was there more urgency? Or are things pretty calm?” she advises.
  • Look for any correlations between what you ate and drank, and how your bladder feels.
  • If you spot a correlation — like bladder pain that comes on after drinking diet soda at lunch —remove that food from your diet.
  • Does that help? If so, congratulations! Avoiding that food or drink — at least as much as possible — may be just what it takes to calm your fussy bladder.

But if you still can’t figure out your triggers, it may be time to talk with a healthcare provider. Lab tests won’t tell you which foods and drinks cause irritation. But a healthcare specialist who treats urinary system problems (urologist) can. They may review your food and symptom diary and help uncover correlations. Or your provider might examine your bladder to diagnose or rule out conditions, like IC, that could be contributing to your discomfort.

How can I manage my bladder irritation?

You can manage your bladder discomfort by avoiding the foods and drinks you’ve identified as irritants.

Here are some other steps that can help:

  • Drink plenty of water. This helps dilute your urine and can reduce the pain caused by bladder-irritating foods you might have eaten. What does “plenty of water” mean? For most people, it means drinking enough water that you don’t feel thirsty, and that your urine is pale yellow or clear in color and has no odor. It is true that some people don’t drink enough water. But it is also possible to drink too much, which can overwhelm the bladder and create a sense of urgency. For most people, drinking between four and eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is plenty.
  • Try to manage your stress. “When you’re stressed, it can affect your whole body, including your bladder,” says Barth. Get enough good quality sleep, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, and take brief breaks during the day to relax.
  • Work with a dietitian. This can be especially beneficial in dealing with your bladder irritation. A dietitian can help you identify your specific triggers and find bladder-friendly substitutes for each meal.

It all comes back to the basics, says Barth. “Aim for a variety of foods. Eat in moderation, drink an adequate amount of fluids and watch your intake of sugar, salt, alcohol and fats — especially saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to overall inflammation, including in the bladder.”

Can I prevent bladder irritation from foods and drinks?

You can’t always avoid bladder irritation from what you eat and drink. But figuring out which foods and drinks cause your bladder discomfort can go a long way toward helping you feel better. By keeping a food diary and adopting a careful diet, you can find and avoid the foods that bother you.

What are the best foods for bladder health?

We’ve already laid out some of the foods and drinks that can irritate your bladder. Now, you might like to consider some alternatives. Some people find they can eat and drink these foods without experiencing bladder irritation:

Most whole fruits, including:

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Vegetables, beans and nuts:

Most whole grains, including:

Meats and proteins:

  • Eggs.
  • Fish (shrimp, tuna and salmon).
  • Lean cuts of beef or pork.
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey).

Dairy:

Beverages, including:

  • Low-acid coffee options, including dark roasts, cold brews and mushroom or chicory blends.
  • Herbal teas. (“The bladder likes warm beverages,” notes Barth. “They can be very calming.”)
  • Spring water.

While it’s sometimes considered a cause of bladder irritation, yogurt is recommended by both Barth and Dr. Slopnick. “While yogurt is naturally acidic,” explains Barth, “the high level of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that it contains actually benefit the urinary tract.”

“We recommend probiotics all the time, for bladder pain and to prevent urinary tract infections,” adds Dr. Slopnick. “And yogurt is a natural way to get them, rather than taking a pill or a supplement.”

But beware of sweetened yogurts, including the fruit-filled types, which can contain high levels of sugar. Also avoid those that contain artificial sweeteners, which are high on the list of potential bladder irritants. Plain, nonfat yogurt is the best. Both original and Greek-style are excellent sources of protein, calcium and probiotics and can contribute to a healthy diet — and a happy bladder.

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