We don’t usually think much about our bladders until pain, discomfort, or irritation occurs. Unfortunately, some women who have largely avoided bladder problems for the greater part of their lives, may begin to experience issues in perimenopause or menopause. Let’s take a look at why it’s not uncommon for bladder issues to arise during menopause and explore some diet-related solutions that may help to soothe an irritated bladder.
Is Bladder Irritation Related to Menopause?
While some women deal with common bladder issues, like urinary tract infections (UTIs), throughout their lives, it's not unusual for women entering perimenopause or menopause to experience bladder issues for the first time.
There are several reasons for this: the bladder's walls and vaginal and urethra tissue begin to thin, and pelvic floor muscles may relax and weaken. Because the bladder contains estrogen receptors1—and since estrogen levels also begin to fluctuate significantly in perimenopause—there is very likely a correlation between bladder health and the menopausal transition. UTIs may also occur more frequently, as bacteria can access the bladder more easily due to the urethra’s thinner lining. Microabrasions that can occur during sexual intercourse, due to the thinning of vaginal tissues, may also make women in menopause more susceptible to UTIs, as this can allow bacteria to enter the body. Additionally, the bladder loses elasticity and volume over time, which may lead to frequent urination and an increased risk of urinary incontinence.2
On the topic of urinary incontinence, there are two main types of menopause-related incontinence: stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when pressure is put on the bladder, causing urine to leak. Sneezing, coughing, or certain types of movement (running, jumping, lifting) may trigger leakage. Stress incontinence is common during menopause, but may also be experienced prior to this stage, typically by women who have given birth or who are overweight. Urge incontinence occurs due to irritated bladder muscles; it causes a sudden (and often frequent) urge to urinate. Urine leakage may occur as well—this leakage is referred to as overactive bladder syndrome, or OAB.3 Some women may also experience mixed incontinence, which involves symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence.4
How Common Are Bladder Issues in Menopause—and What Can I Do If I’m Affected?
Women in menopause are more likely to experience overactive bladder than younger women. One study suggests that women ages 45 to 54 years make up the bulk of overactive bladder patients, and as many as 38% of women aged 60 years and older are affected. These statistics, provided by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), show that bladder issues during menopause are fairly common and tend to worsen as women age.5
While overactive bladder can be frustrating and annoying, there are measures you can take to help ease symptoms.
One important way to control bladder discomfort is to pay close attention to the foods you eat. After your body uses up the nutrients in the foods and drinks you ingest, the leftovers make their way to your bladder. The waste “hangs out” there for a while, waiting to be voided and can sometimes cause irritation in the process. If you think your bladder trouble may be related to the foods you’re eating or beverages you’re drinking, it’s time to figure out what exactly could be causing an issue.6
Food Journaling to Pinpoint the Causes of Bladder Irritation
The first step toward determining which foods are irritating your bladder during menopause, is to keep a food journal noting what you’ve eaten and drank, along with when you consume these items, and how your bladder feels afterward. Try writing down everything you ingest for a few days. If you notice irritation after eating certain types of food—let’s say spicy foods—try to stop eating this type of food immediately. If your bladder symptoms calm down, great—you may be on to something! You can then add the food in question back into your diet, but in small amounts. Slowly increase your portion size, and if symptoms reappear, there’s a good chance you’ve pinpointed the culprit of your discomfort—and you’ll want to avoid this food/beverage in the future.7
Which Foods Irritate the Bladder?
While not everyone’s body is affected in the same way by the foods we eat, there are some foods that have a tendency to cause bladder irritation. A short list of common, problematic food includes:8
- Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, cola)
- Carbonated beverages (seltzer, sparkling water)
- Sports drinks
- Citrus fruit
- Raw onion
- Tomatoes and tomato-based products (ketchup, tomato sauce)
- Spicy foods
Additionally, foods with the following additives may also contribute to bladder irritation:9
- Artificial flavorings and preservatives
- Sugar or sugar substitutes
Foods that contain gluten (which includes wheat, rye, barley) can also sometimes trigger overactive bladder. A gluten-free diet may be necessary if your food journal indicates that your bladder feels irritated after eating foods like breads, pastas, baked goods, and cereals.10
Which Foods Help to Soothe the Bladder?
Some foods seem to work well to help avoid bladder issues before, during and after menopause. For example, fiber is great because it works to prevent constipation, which can put a strain on your bladder. Some examples of bladder-friendly foods include:11
- Lean proteins – eggs, chicken, low-fat beef, turkey
- Whole grains – oats, quinoa and rice
- Certain fruits and vegetables – bananas, pears, green beans and potatoes
What Should I Drink to Benefit my Bladder?
In addition to modifying your eating habits, there are a few more things to keep in mind when dealing with an irritated bladder.
First, consider monitoring your fluid intake, but stick with mostly water, being careful to avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages. Drinking when you’re thirsty is the best way to gauge appropriate water intake, as the “rule” of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day may be too much for some women.12 You can monitor your water intake by observing the color of your urine—if you’re drinking enough, it should be a light, straw yellow color.13
Are Supplements Recommended for Supporting Bladder Health?
Some women find that dietary supplements are helpful for supporting their bladder health. In a recently study, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 74.6% of individuals with overactive bladder used some form of complementary and alternative medicine to help address their symptoms.14 Additionally, vitamin D has been show to help prevent urinary incontinence, while magnesium may reduce bladder spasms and help the bladder to empty fully.15 It’s very important, though, to always check with your healthcare provider first before adding new supplements to your daily routine.
When to See a Healthcare Provider for Bladder Health
You know your body best, so always seek medical help if you feel like something is “off” with your bladder. Pain, blood in your urine, or a fever with chills, along with lower back or side pain always warrants a call to your healthcare provider. Some issues, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) should be addressed quickly to avoid a more serious infection, and chronic bladder issues, like interstitial cystitis, should always be evaluated and monitored consistently by a healthcare provider.16
While altering your diet may be difficult at first, finding foods that prevent bladder irritation and discomfort—and that also promote good bladder health in menopause—can be well worth the effort.