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Your Diet May Be Irritating Your Bladder

Cynelle Kunkle, M.D.Some of your favorite foods and drinks could be putting you at risk for developing bladder control problems.

“Bladder irritant” is the term that encompasses the wide variety of foods and beverages that contribute to bladder control symptoms, such as urinary urgency, frequency, or bladder pain.

“For those who are predisposed to any of these symptoms, an irritant can worsen them,” said Cynelle Kunkle, M.D., a urogynecologist at Crozer-Keystone Health System.

Common bladder irritants include coffee, tea, alcohol, certain acidic fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes) and fruit juices, peppers, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, and chocolate.

Just as food sensitivities can vary from person to person, “not every irritant is going to affect everyone the same way,” Dr. Kunkle said. And while men can experience bladder symptoms, they’re far more common in women.

For patients experiencing bladder control symptoms, Dr. Kunkle will present them with a comprehensive list of irritants and ask them to highlight the items that are common in their diet. She’ll then recommend avoiding these possible bladder irritants for a week to see if the symptoms improve.

After that period, she’ll have them gradually reintroduce them to their diet, one at a time, noting any changes in their symptoms along the way.

“Eliminating irritants will often help alleviate their symptoms,” Dr. Kunkle said. “But I can’t realistically tell my patients to never drink coffee again. Plus, food sensitivities can evolve over the course of a lifetime. So, identifying and eliminating irritants is important, but it’s also important to be realistic regarding counseling patients about dietary choices.” “

In that regard, she said, a number of over-the-counter medications can effectively reduce the acidity in the bladder and minimize the severity of the symptoms. However, when patients do not respond to changes in their diet, there are many options available for further testing and treatment.