An overactive bladder and urinary incontinence can cause — or even be exacerbated by — stress and embarrassment in a patient’s personal life. The condition is far from uncommon, with an estimated 33 million people in the US alone who experience overactive bladder symptoms.¹
While some patients do require medication to manage their overactive bladder, it can also be worth it to educate them on lifestyle modifications that may benefit them. What are some of the changes you can recommend to patients looking to reduce their overactive bladder symptoms?
- Increase Fiber Intake
Constipation may make overactive bladder episodes worse. Some studies have suggested that functional female constipation is associated with urinary incontinence and overactive bladder symptoms,² so dietary changes that facilitate regular bowel movements may be beneficial.
Patients should consume high-fiber foods such as oats, brain, quinoa, lentils, almonds, and high-fiber fruits (apples, pears, strawberries) and vegetables (broccoli, peas, brussels sprouts).
- Reduce Salt in Diet
Could less sodium in a patient’s diet improve their condition? A recent study from Scientific Reports examined potential associations between reduced salt intake and overactive bladder symptoms. It found that patients who significantly reduced their sodium intake did, in fact, improve their urinary symptoms while patients who did not reduce their intake did not.³
Though the study was limited by its small sample size, the researchers concluded that salt restriction is a viable lifestyle change for patients who want to decrease their overactive bladder symptoms.
- Quit Smoking
While the best thing to do for overactive bladder symptoms is to not smoke at all, smokers who quit can still lessen the urgency of urinary incontinence. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Urology examined correlations between smoking habits and urinary incontinence in women.⁴
Based on the study authors’ findings from a short-form questionnaire, ex-smokers had less prevalent and less urgent overactive bladder symptoms than current smokers, though non-smokers had lower incidence of both. Still, quitting smoking can be an effective way to reduce the urgency of overactive bladder symptoms over time.
- Increase Pelvic Exercises
Exercises that focus on the bladder muscle can both build up strength and help the muscle relax. The Urology Care Foundation recommends doing regular kegel exercises, which can strengthen a patient’s pelvic floor.⁵ They also recommend quick flicks, an exercise where pelvic floor muscles are repeatedly squeezed and relaxed to help patients develop better control of the bladder muscle.
- Keep a Record of Your Bathroom Trips
The Urology Care Foundation also recommends that patients with an overactive bladder keep a journal to track how often they’re going to the bathroom and how often they’re experiencing incontinence. Patients should also make note of what they ate or drank, how urgent the need to urinate was, and how much they urinated.
Over time, these records can spotlight which daily routines and dietary habits seem to correlate with more severe symptoms.
- Overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms, causes, and treatment. National Association for Continence. https://www.nafc.org/overactive-bladder. Accessed May 3, 2021.
- Maeda T, Tomita M, Nakazawa A, et al. Female functional constipation Is associated with overactive bladder symptoms and urinary incontinence. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:2138073. doi:10.1155/2017/2138073
- Matsuo T, Miyata Y, Otsubo A, et al. Efficacy of salt reduction for managing overactive bladder symptoms: a prospective study in patients with excessive daily salt intake. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):4046. Published February 18, 2021. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-83725-9
- Kawahara T, Ito H, Yao M, Uemura H. Impact of smoking habit on overactive bladder symptoms and incontinence in women. Int J Urol. 2020;27(12):1078-1086. doi:10.1111/iju.14357
- Overactive bladder (OAB); symptoms, diagnosis & treatment. Urology Care Foundation. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/o/overactive-bladder-(oab). Accessed May 3, 2021.