bladder control

Causes for An Overactive Bladder

Pelvic Floor Doctor
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC

Normally, a person might urinate from 6-8 times in one day, or 1-2 times per night (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). If you find yourself needing to urinate more often than this, more often than usual, or feel an urgent need to urinate (which may be paired with an involuntary loss of urine), you may be experiencing a common condition known as overactive bladder (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).

Over-activity of the bladder can be caused by certain underlying medical conditions, by irritants such as caffeine and spicy food, by certain lifestyle choices, or simply by aging. Take a look at some of these natural remedies for your overactive bladder to see how to get relief.

Medical Problems That Cause Frequent Urination

Before we get into natural remedies to treat an overactive bladder, it’s important to rule out any other medical conditions that might be causing your bladder to over-act.

An overactive bladder can also be caused by aging--including during the hormonal changes associated with menopause and pregnancy--or obstructions to bladder flow including tumors, bladder stones, or an enlarged prostate.

Make sure to write down any and all symptoms you’re experiencing if you need to go to the doctor. 

OAB and Stress

In addition to the medical problems listed above, OAB can be caused by stress and anxiety in your life. One study of 51 adults experiencing overactive bladder found that 48% were experiencing symptoms of anxiety, where 24% were experiencing moderate to severe anxiety (Lai et al, 2016a).

In the same population, 27.5% of patients were experiencing depression, where 12% of cases were moderate to severe (Lai et al, 2016b).

It’s important to take care of your mental health. Stress can cause many other medical conditions in addition to overactive bladder. Try making lifestyle changes such as a decrease in workload, healthy diet, and regular exercise, and reach out to your doctor or therapist if you think you need extra help managing your mental health. 

What to Drink With OAB

For the most part, you should stick to water if you are experiencing OAB--just not too much! Make sure you’re limiting your fluid intake to 6-8 glasses per day.

Many drinks can irritate the bladder; according to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (2020), these include:

However, certain herbal teas might also be able to help regulate bladder function. Tea brewed from corn silk--the fine strands revealed when shucking corn--is used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote healthy continence.

It is known as a “toning herb” believed to assist mucous membranes in the urinary tract with healthy urination. Other Chinese toning herbs which can be taken as a tea include horsetail stems, buchu, saw palmetto, plantain leaves, and nettles (Kong & Liao, 2012).

Just make sure your tea of choice does not contain caffeine; most black and green teas do.

What to Eat With OAB

You may think that the bladder is the only significant organ involved in OAB, given the name. However, other organs in the intestinal tract can influence one another, including the bladder and the colon. One study of 516 women found a relationship between constipation and overactive bladder (whether wet or dry OAB) (Abreu et al, 2018).

If you are having difficulty emptying your bowels and experiencing abdominal pain and/or gas, you may be experiencing constipation. To prevent or treat constipation, be sure you drink enough water (again, not more than 8 glasses), avoid caffeine, exercise, and increase your fiber intake.

You can also try an over-the-counter laxative to relieve your constipation--but if you are not able to defecate for 4 to 5 days in a row, or you keep getting constipated despite having regular fiber intake and exercise, call your doctor (Lee, n.d.).

Several foods can also be bladder irritants, including (University of Iowa, 2020):

Bladder and Pelvic Floor Training

Your bladder is surrounded by muscle fibers--and like any muscle, it can be retrained. To help increase the amount of time before you need to use the bathroom next, Harvard Health (2010) recommends the following steps:

You might also try adding Kegel exercises into your daily routine; studies have shown that Kegels can greatly help urinary incontinence (Hay-Smith et al, 2001) and even improve lower back pain (Bi et al).

Final Thoughts

Treating your overactive bladder starts with finding out the cause--an underlying medical condition, stress, or an irritant.

For the latter, try cutting out all caffeinated and carbonated beverages, fruits and fruit juices (especially citrus), alcohol, spicy foods, and chocolate from your diet at once; if this helps, you can reintroduce these foods one by one to figure out which your body might be sensitive to.

In general, keeping up with your physical and mental health through stress relief, exercise, and a healthy diet (including lots of fiber) will help you maintain continence in both urination and bowel movements. You can also try bladder and pelvic floor exercises to help give you more control over when you go.

References

  1. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic (2019). What Your Bladder Is Trying to Tell You About Your Health. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-your-bladder-is-trying-to-tell-you-about-your-health-2/
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff (2020). Overactive bladder. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/overactive-bladder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355715
  3. Cleveland Clinic (2016). Neurogenic Bladder: Symptoms, Causes, Tests and Treatment. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15133-neurogenic-bladder 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Urinary Tract Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/uti.html
  5. Lai, H. H., Rawal, A., Shen, B., & Vetter, J. (2016a). The Relationship Between Anxiety and Overactive Bladder or Urinary Incontinence Symptoms in the Clinical Population. Urology, 98, 50–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2016.07.013
  6. Lai, H. H., Shen, B., Rawal, A., & Vetter, J. (2016b). The relationship between depression and overactive bladder/urinary incontinence symptoms in the clinical OAB population. BMC urology, 16(1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12894-016-0179-x
  7. Michael Dansinger (Ed.), (2019). Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes: How To Tell if You Have It. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/understanding-diabetes-symptoms
  8. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (2020). Bladder irritants. https://uihc.org/health-topics/bladder-irritants 
  9. Kong, T., Liao, L. (2012). Basic Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Treatment for Urinary Incontinence. International Continence Society [ICS] News 8(2), 14-15. https://www.ics.org/Documents/DocumentsDownload.aspx?DocumentID=1477
  10. Abreu, G. E. D., Dourado, E. R., Alves, D. D. N., Araujo, M. Q. D., Mendonça, N. S. P., & Barroso Junior, U. (2018). Functional constipation and overactive bladder in women: a population-based study. Arquivos de gastroenterologia, 55, 35-40. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0004-2803.201800000-46
  11. Lee, L. (n.d.). Constipation: Causes and Prevention Tips. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/constipation-causes-and-prevention-tips
  12. Harvard Health (2010). Training Your Bladder. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/training-your-bladder
  13. Hay-Smith, E. J., LC, B. B., Hendriks, H. J., De Bie, R. A., & Van Waalwijk Van Doorn, E. S. (2001). Pelvic floor muscle training for urinary incontinence in women. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. https://www.cochrane.org/CD005654/INCONT_pelvic-floor-muscle-training-urinary-incontinence-women
  14. Bi, X., Zhao, J., Zhao, L., Liu, Z., Zhang, J., Sun, D., Song, L., & Xia, Y. (2013). Pelvic floor muscle exercise for chronic low back pain. Journal of International Medical Research, 146–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/0300060513475383