Diet and lifestyle changes
There are some general lifestyle changes that you could make which may help to alleviate your symptoms.
As well as following a healthy diet, you should try to take some form of regular exercise. If you have stress incontinence it may be advisable to avoid high-impact exercise such as running and anything involving jumping, which can increase abdominal pressure and cause leaks. Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming may cause you fewer problems.
Healthy fluid intake
It is important to drink enough fluid each day to keep the bladder healthy. The bladder will work at its best when you drink the right amount of fluid. When you are not drinking enough, the bladder gets used to holding smaller amounts of urine and can become sensitive, especially if your urine becomes more concentrated as then it is more likely to irritate your bladder.
Try to drink at least 1.5-2 litres (at least 3 pints) of fluid each day, remembering that many foods already contain plenty of water in them. If you currently drink less than this, try and increase the amount you drink gradually. Drink fairly small quantities at any one time, regularly throughout the day.
Increasing the amount that you drink may sound counterproductive. Indeed, in the short term it may well seem to make your problems worse, but this will only be temporary. In the longer term your bladder will learn to hold more urine, will become less sensitive and irritable, and will be less likely to harbour infections.
Some people find that fizzy drinks, some fruit teas containing hibiscus and drinks that contain caffeine, especially those Lite or Diet types with artificial sweeteners like Aspartame or Saccharine, can make your problems worse. Cutting out this sort of drink may help you. Alcoholic drinks especially shorts can irritate the bladder too. Drink plain water, fruit juice, some fruit or herbal teas and cordials. If you pay attention to what you drink, you will start to notice which drinks cause problems.
Drinking 1 or 2 glasses (250 to 600ml) of cranberry juice every day can help people who often get urine infections. Cranberry juice helps to flush the infection out of your system because it has a bacteriostatic effect. This prevents bacteria sticking to the lining of your bladder and breeding. However, be careful when shopping for cranberry products as many are very dilute and so you would have to drink a lot to get the benefit. Look out for pure cranberry juices with a cranberry content of 20 to 25%.
If you have the condition painful bladder/ interstitial cystitis (PB/IC), avoid drinking cranberry juice as this will make the symptoms worse as the bladder is inflamed without a bacterial infection present. In fact any sharp acidic food or drink makes the symptoms worse in this condition, it’s a really good indicator for the difference between a bacterial infection such as UTI and an IC case.
Keeping your urine on the slightly acidic side is another good way of discouraging infections, because generally, bugs prefer alkaline environments You may have noticed when you get a urine infection that your urine smells of ammonia, which is a strong alkali. Taking Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), in divided doses (totalling not more than 1000mg per day), works well. Drinking Barley Water will also tend to keep your urine more acidic. It may also help to keep your catheter free of encrustation if you wear a permanent indwelling one.
Anyone with diabetes or taking Warfarin medication should check with their doctor or healthcare professional first to check if it is OK to drink any of these drinks. The acid in some fruit juices can make problems worse for some people, so please check.
Do not cut down on the amount that you drink as this makes your urine even more concentrated and is likely to make your bladder problems even worse.
Avoiding constipation and following a healthy diet
You should try and avoid being constipated. When the bowel does not empty properly it will swell up and push down onto the bladder, and this can cause or exacerbate your problem.
You can avoid constipation by following a healthy diet. A good diet will not only benefit your bladder but also your health in general. Try and eat a balanced diet that is not too high in fat and includes plenty of fibre. Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Choose wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice, rather than white versions.
Being overweight can also make your bladder problems worse. Extra weight may put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles which can become weak.
For further information and advice on food and diet, please visit the NHS Choices website.
If you are a smoker, try to give up smoking. A persistent smoker’s cough can make your problems worse. Visit your GP for information and advice about giving up.