An estimated 33 million people in the United States experience overactive bladder (OAB). Though OAB is common, it is not a normal part of aging.

OAB occurs when the bladder muscles are unable to relax and contract as they are supposed to.

There are many causes, including local bladder conditions such as inflammation (acute or chronic), malignant or premalignant conditions, diabetes, fluid intake, damage to the pelvic floor muscles, local nerve damage, and more.

As a result, the bladder muscles contract at incorrect or inopportune times, leading to an urgent and potentially frequent need to urinate. In some cases, this can also lead to urinary leakage (incontinence).

People with OAB may find that specific conditions may trigger their OAB symptoms and cause more frequent or bothersome urinary troubles. In this article, we look at some of the common triggers of OAB symptoms and what you can do about them to help prevent bladder problems.

Drinking more water increases the frequency of urination. For people with OAB, this can become problematic and may lead to worsening symptoms.

This may be intuitive, but many people also believe drinking more water is better for your health. As a result, people with OAB may continue drinking lots of fluids – more than they need.

A 2018 analysis of studies from the past 5 decades found excessive water intake can trigger symptoms of OAB and that reducing water intake is a safe and effective way to reduce urinary frequency and urgency.

There are no exact recommendations for how much water a person should drink daily. Needs vary based on various factors, including age, sex, health and pregnancy status, and activity levels.

Adjust your water intake based on your needs, and don’t feel obligated to get the 8 glasses per day often cited by popular news sources. Also remember that you get fluids from foods you eat as well, such as fruits and vegetables.

The bladder and bowels are closely related, connected by a network of intersecting nerve pathways. As a result, what affects one can affect the other.

Constipation also causes swelling of the colon, which can place pressure on the bladder and increase the frequency and severity of OAB symptoms.

You can help avoid constipation by eating plenty of fiber, getting regular physical activity, and staying hydrated. If limiting your water intake leads to constipation, make adjustments as needed. A healthcare professional can also help you balance your bladder and bowel health better.

Research has found that people who smoke, especially young women, are more likely to experience urinary problems such as OAB and incontinence.

Smoking can affect blood flow throughout the body, impacting how well the bladder muscles work. Coughing caused by smoking may also put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, making them harder to control and potentially weakening them over time.

If you smoke, stopping may help with controlling your OAB symptoms.

Caffeine is a diuretic — it increases the body’s production of urine. It is also thought to aggravate the lining of the bladder, which could lead to muscle spasms that cause OAB symptoms.

A study from 2011 found that ingesting caffeine at a dose of 4.5 mg/kg led to increased urinary urgency and frequency.

Similarly, a 2016 study from Russia found that older adults who drank more than 300 mg of caffeinated beverages a day were more likely to experience OAB symptoms than their peers who consumed less than 300 mg of caffeine a day.

If you are a regular caffeine drinker, these results suggest that cutting your intake may help reduce symptoms of OAB.

Like caffeine, alcohol is also a diuretic and causes the body to produce more urine. It can also affect bowel function, potentially leading to constipation in people who consume larger amounts of alcohol.

If you have OAB, consider limiting how much alcohol you drink. If you have concerns about reducing your alcohol consumption, a healthcare professional can help provide you with support services and resources.

Like caffeine, some foods can cause bladder irritation. This can lead to muscle spasms that trigger an urgent need to urinate. Some examples of common dietary bladder irritants include:

  • spicy foods
  • citrus foods
  • tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • onions
  • dairy products

The list is not exhaustive, and many other foods can trigger bladder symptoms. Other people may have no trouble with these types of foods.

If you think your diet may be causing bladder symptoms but aren’t sure what foods are to blame, you may want to consider keeping a bladder diary, which can help you track how your symptoms are affected by potential triggers.

Some medications can trigger OAB symptoms. Diuretic medications, for example, are commonly used to treat high blood pressure or edema but can lead to more frequent or urgent urination.

Various other medications may lead to bladder symptoms by affecting blood flow or nerve signaling. Some examples include:

  • other blood pressure medications, including beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers, and oral estrogen
  • some anti-depressants, such as venlafaxine (Effexor), escitalopram (Lexapro), and paroxetine (Paxil)
  • lithium
  • antipsychotics

If you believe your medications may be causing bladder problems such as urinary urgency, more frequent urination, or incontinence, your healthcare team can help you identify other options you may have for treatment.

Many dietary, lifestyle, and health factors can affect bladder function and lead to bothersome OAB symptoms.

While those listed are some of the most cited triggers of OAB symptoms, every person is different. If you’re unsure what is causing your bladder problems, a bladder diary may help you to identify links between potential triggers and symptoms. If changes to your diet or medication plan are needed, your healthcare team can help you understand how to make these changes safely.