Top Bladder Triggers

Top 10 Bladder Triggers -- and How to Turn Them Off
Couple relaxing indoors laughing

When your bladder isn't as reliable as you'd like, all sorts of day-to-day situations become unexpectedly stressful. Who wants to worry about embarrassing leaks every time you sit down to giggle over an episode of Modern Family? Here are the top ten bladder triggers, and ways to keep them in check.

1. Laughing or sneezing

Why leaks happen

The pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder and urethra are weakened. So when you laugh, the sphincter muscle at the juncture between the urethra and bladder can't hold as tightly as it should.

What to do

  • Schedule bathroom trips at regular, set intervals. Learning to follow a bathroom schedule is known as bladder training, and over time it can help your bladder relearn how not to release unexpectedly.

  • Get a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor strengthening. You can learn exercises to regain control over these muscles.

  • Practice double voiding. If incontinence seems to be related to your bladder not emptying completely, returning to the bathroom after waiting a few minutes can help eliminate residual urine.

  • Don't get caught out. If you haven't been to the bathroom in a while and someone launches into a joke, don't feel self-conscious about excusing yourself. It's OK to say, "Hold that thought" so you don't miss out on a good laugh.

2. Running, jumping, and exercise

Why leaks happen

"Exercise-induced urinary incontinence" is the term for stress incontinence that happens during physical exertion. When the pelvic floor muscles weaken, the muscles of the bladder and the urethra don't have the support they need to tighten fully and retain urine. Running, jumping, kicking, and any serious exertion can cause a release.

What to do

  • Don't be afraid to talk about it. It might come as a surprise to know that 30 to 40 percent of women have this problem -- it's not the rare little secret you think it is. Ask your doctor for help.

  • Sign up for pelvic floor therapy. A specialist will put you through a program of Kegel exercises designed to build up strength in the deep abdominal muscles that support the bladder.

  • Be vigilant about bathroom trips. Go just before a run or game, and don't be self-conscious about excusing yourself to use the bathroom again during a session.

  • Don't overhydrate. One eight-ounce glass of water before you exercise is plenty, experts say, but many women drink much more. Save the rest for during and after your training.

  • Wear a tampon. Inserting a tampon puts pressure on the urethra through the vaginal wall. There are also medical devices called pessaries that do much the same thing.

More top bladder triggers

3. Sex

Why leaks happen

Sexual activity puts pressure on the abdomen, urethra, and bladder, which can trigger stress incontinence. Stimulation and arousal can bring on urge incontinence.

What to do

  • Limit fluid intake for an hour prior to sex.

  • Use the bathroom just before sex.

  • Perform pelvic floor exercises regularly to build up bladder control. Hint: They make sex better too!

  • Choose sex positions that make incontinence less likely. With the woman on top, it's easier to control your pelvic muscles and the stress caused by penetration; entry from behind puts less pressure on the bladder and urethra.

4. Alcohol

Why leaks happen

Not only is alcohol a bladder stimulant, it's also a diuretic, causing your body to flush out water through the kidneys. So it's a double whammy for those struggling with incontinence.

What to do

  • Choose water-based mixed drinks. A gin and tonic -- with plenty of tonic -- is much easier on the bladder than straight whisky.

  • Don't add insult to injury. Mixing one bladder irritant -- alcohol -- with another, such as coke or a citrus juice, is just going to make leakage more likely.

  • Cut back on the celebrating. You'll enjoy the evening more if you stay dry even if you have to give up that second drink.

  • Remember your water chaser. Following wine, beer, or a mixed drink with water flushes the irritating alcohol out more quickly.

5. Soda pop

Why leaks happen

Soda pop can contain carbonation, caffeine, and cocoa-based flavorings, all of which are among the most irritating bladder triggers. And many experts say diet cola's worse than coffee for those with incontinence; with the addition of artificial sweeteners, it contains four different bladder irritants.

What to do

  • Experiment. When you need an ice-cold refresher, try other options such as lemonade, herbal ice tea, or fizzy water with a splash of juice. When trying to break a cola addiction, gradually reduce your daily intake rather than quitting cold turkey.

More top bladder triggers

6. Coffee and tea

Why leaks happen

Caffeine is a double whammy for those with incontinence because it's a diuretic and it stimulates the bladder. So it makes you have to go more often -- and it makes you have to go now.

What to do

  • Eliminate caffeine as much as possible. That means black tea and chocolate as well as coffee, experts say. If you can't start your day without a cup of joe, keep the refills down, and follow it with a glass of water to dilute the stimulating effects. Also, limit your coffee and tea drinking to mornings. If you're going to be running to the bathroom, you don't want it to be when you're trying to sleep.

7. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Why leaks happen

When a urinary tract infection irritates the lining of your bladder, the result can be strong, sudden urges to urinate. And you may not even know you have a UTI; some are symptomless, at least at first. There may also be other symptoms, such as itching or burning, discharge, or a fishy or foul-smelling odor.

What to do

  • Get tested for any suspected case of a UTI.

  • If you seem to be getting frequent bouts of UTIs or an infection won't clear up, ask your doctor about interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition that can lead to incontinence.

8. Constipation

Why leaks happen

The lower colon and rectum are located near the bladder and share many of the same nerves. When you have hard, compacted stool in your rectum, these nerves become overactive, with the result that you have sudden and frequent urges to go.

What to do

  • Bulk up your diet with fiber. Fiber prevents constipation and has the additional benefit of making the urinary tract muscles function more effectively.

  • Take laxatives temporarily to clear your colon and rectum.

  • Drink plenty of water at regular intervals.

  • Eat more fruits and veggies. The water content in fruits and vegetables helps prevent constipation.

More top bladder triggers

9. Medications

Why leaks happen

Medications that relax muscles in other parts of the body often relax the muscles of the bladder and urethra as well. Meanwhile, some medications cause you to produce and expel more urine, while others make you sleepy and less alert. Some examples:

  • Alpha-blocking medications that lower blood pressure, such as Cardura (doxazosin), Minipress (prazosin), and Hytrin (terazosin), weaken the bladder's ability to hold tight.

  • Diuretics such as Bumex (bumetanide), Lasix (furosemide), Aldactone (spironolactone), and all the thiazides cause your body to flush liquids.

  • Antidepressants and other drugs with anticholinergic effects, such as Norpramin (desipramine), Cogentin (benztropine), Haldol (haloperidol), and Risperdal (risperidone), block a neurotransmitter and in the process can cause bladder spasms.

  • Sedatives and sleeping pills such as Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), Dalmane (flurazepam), Lunesta (eszopiclone), and Ambien (zolpidem) relax muscles and make you sleep extremely deeply.

What to do

  • Check side effects. If you think a medication is affecting your bladder, check the listed side effects to see if urinary problems or incontinence is among them. Even if it's not in the notes, that doesn't mean your experience is invalid. Keep track of how the drug is affecting you from day to day, then talk to your doctor about whether it's possible to switch to an alternative medication.

10. Super-tight jeans, leggings

Why leaks happen

There's a reason your doctor tells you to wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections. Airflow prevents moisture from becoming trapped and providing a breeding ground for bacteria. Wearing tight jeans, "jeggings," or thick stretchy leggings for long periods of time can lead to UTIs and bladder infections, which in turn can cause incontinence.

What to do

  • Give your body a break. If you want to wear tight jeans for a hot date, do so, but slip into your comfies as soon as you get home.

  • Save exercise leggings for class; shower and change before heading home.

  • Choose cotton over nylon, and watch that lycra content. The more lycra in the fabric, the more elasticized it is.

  • Go one size larger.


about 2 years ago, said...

These are decisions a person makes on her own. My husband is unable to make decisions and is in denial.


almost 4 years ago, said...

My spouse is non verbal and I have a bathroom issue that I can't seem to resolve. She will sit on her portable potty and have a bm but she will rarely urinate on it. I have tried everything I know to do like running water, pouring a little warm water down her lower back and just letting her sit for extended periods of time. She wears depends and if I take her for a ride in car or lay her down for a nap she will urinate. I have even tried massaging her shoulders and spine with a vibrator with no success. I have also given her warm cranberry juice and pear juice. I don't fuss at her but if there is something else someone might suggest, I would appreciate it. She has very little if any comprehension.


about 4 years ago, said...

I've given up trying to find any relevant information for men on this site.


over 4 years ago, said...

There was no mention of when you have a cough or are sneezing due to a cold or allergy, or sometimes from certain BP meds. I started having stress incontinence after delivering 4 babies, but only strted wearing a pad during the last 10 years, I am 73, and MUST wear a pad if I am coughing or sneezing. But I have found a trick to use if I am standing up and feel a cough or sneeze coming on: if I cock one hip, it seems to divert the pressure and I stay dry.


over 4 years ago, said...

Diet soda as irritant


over 4 years ago, said...

All of it. I have very bad incontinence and have had for several years and tried to keep it to myself, it makes traveling a pain, everything is effected by this problem but this article had alot of good info in it. Some things I knew, but, some I did not. Like my medications.


over 4 years ago, said...

Comprehensive and informative.


over 4 years ago, said...

Another excellent article with helpful tips for us all.


over 4 years ago, said...

A friend sent me a photo of a wall hanging that reads: Sometimes I laugh so hard tears run down my leg.


over 4 years ago, said...

Learning about the relationship between different factors and stress incontinence.


over 4 years ago, said...

variety of causes and good "what to do" suggestions.


about 5 years ago, said...

better sooer than not


about 5 years ago, said...

what about other urological problems such as a double stream .this happened to me after a prostate biopsy it isn't a stone or anything else i could feel...how about info about this the biopsy was negative i knew it would be but the dr. needed to make a buck i think,,


over 5 years ago, said...

the many specifics I found to be very helpful.!


over 5 years ago, said...

A supplement called Potassium Bicarbonate or K-Bicarb has worked wonders for my incontinence after prostate cancer surgery. I have a friend who said it worked wonders for him also. One 99mg capsule per day. My urologist said it makes sense to him. Good luck.


over 5 years ago, said...

Hi anonymous, Thank you very much for your question. Unfortunately, we are unable to diagnose medical problems for our site members, or provide medical guidance online. While members of our community may respond to your question, we recommend that you contact a doctor offline regarding this medical issue. Thank again for participating in our community! We hope you'll visit again soon. Take care -- Emily | Community Manager


over 5 years ago, said...

I am 72 years old and I find your information very interesting and I do have some of the symptoms in a mild form so far. I do have a large stone in my right kidney which I am told will not pass because of its size and my kidneys do not perform as well as they should. My internist keeps a close watch on this. What is bothering and confusing me is that I often feel a strong urge to urinate but I end up with very little urine to void, sometimes only a few drips. Can I find what causes this?


over 5 years ago, said...

Hello, One day I noticed that my urine was all blood....I called my Dr. and had a urine test done. I was given a prescription with sulfur in it. Little did I know that I was allergic to sulfur. I almost stopped breathing. My daughter rushed me to the hospital where I stayed for three days.The blood disappeared and I thought everything was fine. The Dr. at the hospital made an appointment for me with a family Dr. She told me I needed a urolgist...I went to see the urolgist and she took a look into my bladder. Wow!!!!!!!! There was a tumor as large as an orange. I had bladder cancer. Went back six months later and she found a smaller tumor. This was five years ago and up until now I'm cancer free. I had two bouts of BCG where they shoot medication through a catheter into the bladder. So ladies, don't let symptoms fool you. Better to be safe than sorry!!


over 5 years ago, said...

Thanks for this interesting piece, Melanie. We at TENA agree that it is important for women to discuss their sometimes embarrassing health conditions, such as issues with bladder control, with their doctors in order to find the solutions they need to live the healthy and active lives they desire. In fact, TENA recently conducted a survey (http://bit.ly/dUEMyv), which was commissioned by Harris Interactive in an effort to assess how women 45 and older in North America deal with common health conditions associated with aging. The TENA Boomer Health Survey revealed that only 15 percent of baby boomer women are likely to discuss a taboo health condition with their physician and over two-thirds are less likely to seek out a physician if they consider their condition to be a "normal part of aging." Considering that bladder weakness is a condition that affects nearly 1 in 4 women over the age of 40, we need women to start addressing this condition head-on.


over 5 years ago, said...

if it addressed the problem with ideas for men


over 5 years ago, said...

No one mentioned incontinence associated with perimenopause. I suffered from occasional incontinence during that period, but it has improved since I went through menopause. No problems now, thank goodness!


over 5 years ago, said...

Informative article... I was not aware of some of these causes. I agree with Sheesta that including the exercises would have been helpful but will definitely do some research.


over 5 years ago, said...

Informative article... I wasn't aware of some of these causes.


over 5 years ago, said...

Information about medications that might cause incontinence was v helpful!


over 5 years ago, said...

This is a GREAT and thorough article. Although, many shy away from discussing these issues; the more we get urinary incontinence out in the open, the easier it will be to say (as you noted earlier in the article and I tried to paraphrase here): "Hold that thought a...if I don't use the bathroom right now, I may have an accident." While everyone laughs or is in shock at such level of candor (TMI!!!), you're safe in the bathroom before returning to hear the joke. As for tight jeans and leggings, I agree...and if you must where them, drink cranberry juice which offsets potential UTIs (urinary tract infections). We're fortunate to have platforms like Caring.com where we can discuss things openly and be more aware and prepared.


over 5 years ago, said...

Good article but it would have been GREAT if you had given some bladder floor strengthening exercises also. Still ...thanks.


over 5 years ago, said...

I am 70 yrs, old, when I was in my late thirties I had a partial hysterectomy.at that time the tied up my bladder this lasted many years, Recently I saw a urologist, after many tests he is going to allow me to have a sling put under my bladder. I have been taking Detrol for a couple of months, it helps but I feel that the procedure will help more. Comments please