3 Tips for Managing an Irritable Bladder—From Someone with First-Hand Experience

May 22, 2018 at 9:15 a.m. ET
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People develop irritable bladders for a number of reasons, but it's not a topic that gets talked about a huge deal, probably because a lot of people expect an irritable bladder to be something that only develops later in life. However, as a person in their early 30s, I can confirm my bladder is something I have to manage on a daily basis — and that means monitoring what I drink.

The symptoms of an irritable bladder include waking in the night several times to pee, having a sudden urge to urinate and being unable to control your bladder, possibly even peeing a little as a result. Basically, the struggle is real.

My irritable bladder is caused by multiple sclerosis, but that's not the only condition that can trigger an irritable bladder. As the Mayo Clinic notes, things that can cause an overactive bladder include neurological conditions, infections, excessive alcohol or caffeine, certain medications and other health issues. If you think you might have an irritable bladder, then it's worth consulting a medical professional.

More: What's Your ‘Peehavior’? It's Time We Discuss Bladder Health Openly

For me, I realized I had a problem when I needed to rush to the toilet once an hour. This meant sleeping through the night was impossible, as I'd routinely wake up desperate for a pee several times before morning. I was tired and cranky and felt as though I was getting a urinary tract infection far too often. And sometimes, I was getting an infection for real, but because my bladder felt so acidic so often, it became difficult to tell for sure.

My MS nurse suggested I get a bladder test and immediately asked me what I'd been drinking. As a heavy soda drinker, she suggested I cut back on my intake of Coca-Cola. She gave me a helpful list of drinks that make the bladder more active than it should be, such as citrus juices, soda, tea and coffee. The thought of cutting down on all my caffeine intake was terrifying, but if it was going to help my overactive bladder, it was worth a try. Here are just some of the ways you can manage an irritable bladder.

Drink more water & less fizzy or caffeine-based drinks

As Health magazine says, drinking both too much or too little liquid can cause an irritable bladder. If I've forgotten to have enough water, this causes a severe burning when I pee, not unlike the feeling when you have a urinary tract infection. Conversely, returning to my old habits of drinking too much soda makes me way more aware of my bladder and makes the urge to pee even greater.

If you're peeing too frequently and it's interfering with your day-to-day life, then check the list of drinks that aggravate your bladder and moderate your intake. Switching caffeine-based beverages for water is almost always a great choice, although I find that a water-based coffee, such as an Americano, is usually fine on my bladder.

More: The Incredibly Simple Thing You Can Do to Prevent UTIs

Make sure you empty your bladder fully when you pee

As my sensation has been affected by my multiple sclerosis, I’m not always 100 percent sure I've emptied my bladder fully. But it's so important to make sure you've flushed out all the urine in your bladder so germs can't manifest, causing infections and irritating the bladder more than is necessary.

Always pee right after sex

Before I began moderating what I drink, I often developed urinary tract infections after having sex. This was a combination of my irritated bladder and the germs that come into contact with the urethra during sex. Making sure I pee right after sex ensures any germs are flushed away, and I also find that showering wards off any potential infections. Everyone’s different, but for me, mixing sex with an irritable bladder was once a painful combo. Drinking plenty of water before sex also helps and makes sure my bladder isn't overly stimulated.

A version of this article was originally published in December 2017.

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