Pelvic Floor MythBusters! Don’t eat lemon to avoid bladder pain, true or false?

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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Hey guys!  If you have bladder pain, you probably have done some reading about bladder irritants. Lemon, dairy, spicy foods have all been rumored to spike bladder pain. But is this really the case? With everyone? Before you put down your lemon water, let’s dissect the truths, and kinda truths about bladder irritants in this month’s Pelvic Floor Mythbuster’s.

Truth be told there are a lot of different ways the bladder can go sideways. You can experience an urge to urinate that is so frequent it disrupts your everyday tasks. You can experience strong urge that feels impossible to repress. You may experience leaking. You may experience pain in your bladder while it fills, while you empty it, or immediately after emptying it. Can diet cure all these ills? In some cases, maybe. But in many cases, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Read on as I run through why we consider diet with bladder issues, what else may be at play, and some practical advice on how to manage an unruly bladder.

Common Bladder Conditions

Before we go over bladder irritants, lets go over some of the most common bladder ailments we see here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.

Urgency: Urgency can best be described as having a sudden need to urinate which is either extremely difficult or impossible to delay

Frequency: In most people, going to the bathroom every 2-3 hours is normal going more frequently is considered frequency. But keep in mind, you may experience more frequency after drinking a lot of water all at once or after having caffeine, alcoholic and carbonated beverages.

Hesitancy: Hesitancy is difficulty starting the stream of urine.

Pain: Pain seems pretty simple, but if you visit us at BBPT we usually will ask you more questions than “do you have pain? Yes or no?” We will ask where the pain is, and if you have pain with bladder filling, emptying, or urgency which can tell us a lot about what to do about the problem. We will ask what makes the pain better or worse?

Nocturia (nighttime bathroom trips): Unless you have had a ton of water right before bed, it is generally accepted that getting up 1 or more times a night to pee if you are under 65 and more than 1 time a night to pee if you are over 65 is considered nocturia.

Stress incontinence: Stress incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of urine usually associated with activity, like running, lifting, coughing, laughing and sneezing.

Urge Incontinence: Urge incontinence is the loss of urine with a strong urge to pee.

Mixed Incontinence: As the name would imply, mixed incontinence is a combination of both urge and stress incontinence.

How Can What We Eat Affect our Bladders?

The science community isn’t really sure yet what causes certain foods to irritate certain people’s bladders, but they have some good hypotheses. In the case of pain, some scientists have proposed that people who are affected by food may have linings of the bladder that are less protective from the irritating material found in pee, especially pee that contains irritants from certain foods. Some evidence supports “cross talk” between different organs in that things that irritate the bowel, may irritate the bladder. Also it is believed in cases where the nerves are more sensitive, which can happen in cases of chronic pain, diet can more easily cause symptoms to spike.

So What to do About Irritants?

There is a saying I say a lot. Everybody is different and every body is different. This saying could not be more true when it comes to bladder irritants. Not everyone’s bladder is irritated by the same thing. You can find a list of common bladder irritants here . Did you click it? Totally overwhelming, am I right? The thing is my bladder irritant may not be your bladder irritant. The best way to find out what is your irritant, is to eliminate items you may suspect as being irritants for three to four days and add them back in to see if they bother you. If you find that you are really unsure what is bothering you or you have a history of disordered or restrictive eating. I would highly recommend doing this with the guidance of a trained nutritionist. Not only can a good nutritionist help you detect irritants more efficiently, they also can provide you alternatives, so you have plenty of yummy things to eat during your quest to determine if your diet is bothering your bladder as well as keep you safe if you have had or are currently struggling with disordered eating.

The Bladder and The Pelvic Floor

All of the conditions listed earlier in this blog can be caused entirely or in part by the pelvic floor. Hopefully experimenting with eliminating bladder irritants improved your symptoms at least somewhat. But if it hasn’t, it may be time to consider the pelvic floor. Both pelvic floors that are weak and tight and weak and loose can contribute to the symptoms outlined above. Often times combining dietary changes with pelvic floor rehab can provide the right synergy to get over the hump and to start feeling better again.

Practical Bladder Tips

  • Normal voiding frequency is once every 2-3 hours. If you find you can not make it that long and don’t have pain, try lengthening the time between “goes” 10-15 minutes at a time and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing in the interim.
  • If you experience sudden urge, DON’T PANIC! Rushing often makes it worse. Breath slowly and calmly make your way to the toilet.
  • When hesitancy strikes, breath deeply. If you have male reproductive organs, try sitting on the toilet to relax the pelvic floor and make peeing easier.
  • Avoid drinking water 2 hours before bedtime if you are experiencing nocturia.
  • If you are constipated, work on managing that problem. The bladder lives right in front of the rectum. A large backup of stool will press on the bladder, irritating it and reducing its holding capacity.

Conclusions

Are bladder irritants really a thing, yes for some people and we are still trying to figure out why. If you are having trouble tackling your bladder problems. Come give us a visit at BBPT so we can get you feeling better! Also check out Amy Stein’s book for more ways you can deal with bladder pain.

Friedlander J, Shorter B, Moldwin R. Diet and its role in interstitial cystitis/ bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS) and comorbid conditions. BJUI. 109. 1584-91

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