Having an overactive bladder (OAB) means your bladder has problems storing urine normally. Common symptoms of OAB include:
- needing to go to the bathroom more often than usual
- being unable to hold your urine
- experiencing leakage when you need to urinate (incontinence)
- needing to urinate several times throughout the night
Over time, these symptoms may affect your daily life. They can make it harder to plan trips, cause unintentional disruptions during work, or affect your sleep quality.
OAB can have many causes, including aging-related changes, medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease, bladder obstruction, and weak pelvic muscles. Sometimes, the cause is unknown. OAB is a very common and treatable condition.
In fact, several remedies like herbs, exercises, and behavioral therapies are known to help manage urinary symptoms. About 70 percent of women who use these methods report they’re satisfied with the results, according to Harvard Health Blog.
Read on to find out how you can strengthen an overactive bladder and reduce trips to the bathroom.
Always check with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements. They can interact with medicines you are taking and cause unintended side effects.
Chinese herbal blends
Gosha-jinki-gan (GJG) is a blend of 10 traditional Chinese herbs. Several studies have been done on this herbal blend, and researchers found that GJG inhibits the bladder and significantly improves daytime frequency. People who took 7.5 milligrams of GJG a day also reported better results on their International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS), which records urinary symptoms.
Another Chinese herbal medicine is Hachimi-jio-gan (HE). HE is made up of eight natural ingredients, some of which are also in GJG. Preliminary studies show that HE may have an effect on bladder muscle contraction.
Ganoderma lucidum (GL)
Also known as lingzhi mushroom, this extract from East Asia is used to cure many ailments including hepatitis, hypertension, and cancers. In a randomized study, 50 men reported better scores for IPSS.
This study recommends 6 milligrams of GL extract in men with lower urinary tract symptoms.
Corn silk (Zea mays)
Corn silk is the waste material from corn cultivation. Countries from China to France use this as a traditional medicine for many ailments, including bedwetting and bladder irritation. It may help with strengthening and restoring mucous membranes in the urinary tract to prevent incontinence, according to the International Continence Society.
Capsaicin is found in the fleshy part of Chile peppers, not the seeds. It’s commonly used to treat pelvic pain syndrome, which is often a symptom of OAB. Studies have found that peak bladder capacity increased from 106 milliliters to 302 milliliters.
Always talk to your doctor before trying alternative remedies for your OAB. They may cause unintended side effects. Make sure you buy your herbs from a reliable source. Herbs from unreliable sources may be contaminated, and many don’t have a standard dose. Many herbs aren’t well researched and don’t go through quality control processes or human trials to prove their effectiveness.
Food and drink
Pumpkin seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that pumpkin seed oil improves abnormal urinary function and reduces symptoms of OAB.
Another Japanese study found that pumpkin seeds and soybean seed extract also significantly reduced incontinence. Participants took five tablets of this processed food two times a day for the first two weeks and then three tablets a day for the next five.
Kohki tea is the extract of a subtropical plant in southern China. This sweet tea is sold over the counter in Japan and is high in antioxidants. It’s also shown to have protective effects on the bladder.
One study found that kohki tea had a significant protective effect on bladder function and contractile responses in rabbits with partial bladder obstruction.
Other bladder-friendly drinks include:
- plain water
- soy milk, which may be less irritating than cow’s or goat’s milk
- cranberry juice
- less acidic fruit juices, such as apple or pear
- barley water
- diluted squash
- caffeine-free teas like fruit teas
Eating to reduce constipation
Sometimes constipation can place extra pressure on your bladder. You can prevent constipation by exercising regularly and including more fiber in your diet. Foods high in fiber include beans, whole-wheat breads, fruits, and vegetables.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating 2 tablespoons of a mixture of 1 cup of applesauce, 1 cup unprocessed wheat bran, and 3/4 cup of prune juice every morning to promote bowel regularity.
While you may want to drink less liquid so you don’t have to urinate as often, you should still make sure you stay hydrated. More concentrated urine, usually darker in color, can irritate your bladder and cause more frequent urination.
Other foods and drinks can contribute to OAB symptoms, including:
- artificial sweeteners
- citrus fruits
- spicy foods
- tomato-based foods
You can test which drinks or foods irritate your bladder by eliminating them from your diet. Then reincorporate them one by one every two to three days at a time. Permanently eliminate the particular food or drink that worsens your symptoms.
You can reduce the amount of times you get out of bed by not drinking two to three hours before you sleep.
It’s also recommended to refrain from smoking. Smoking can irritate the bladder muscle and cause coughing, which often contributes to incontinence.
Extra weight can also increase the pressure on your bladder and cause stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is when urine leaks after you do something that increases pressure on the bladder, like laughing, sneezing, or lifting. While eating healthy foods can help you lose excess weight, getting regular exercise like strength training can help with long-term management.
Research shows that women who are overweight and have incontinence had less episodes of OAB. One study found that women with obesity who lose 10 percent of their body weight saw improved bladder control by 50 percent.
Kegel exercises and muscle training
You can also do special pelvic floor exercises, or Kegel exercises, in addition to regular exercise. Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles to minimize involuntary contractions and improve posture. It’s also one of the safest behavioral therapies without side effects and complications.
To do Kegel exercises:
- Try stopping your urine mid-stream when going. The muscles you use are pelvic floor muscles. This is what you’ll focus on contracting during Kegel exercises.
- Focus on tightening those muscles when you have an empty bladder. Hold this position for about five seconds at a time. Relax the muscles and then repeat five times. As your muscles get stronger, increase the duration to 10 seconds and 10 repetitions. Perform the exercises 10 or more times a day.
- Breathe normally when doing these exercises.
- Avoid squeezing your stomach, thighs, or buttocks instead of your pelvic floor muscles.
You can also talk to a physical therapist to see if you’re squeezing the right muscles.
Overtime OAB causes your bladder muscles to react a certain way. Bladder retraining can help reboot your bladder muscles. The idea is to let the urge to urinate pass before going to the bathroom and gradually work your way toward longer holding times. Bladder retraining also works best alongside Kegel exercises.
Perform the following steps to train your bladder:
- Keep a journal to determine how frequently you go to the bathroom.
- Delay urination with small intervals. Once you feel the need to pee, see if you can hold off for five minutes and work your way up.
- Schedule trips to the bathroom. You can keep a journal to see how often you need to go and delay that time. You can start with 10 minute delays and work your way up to every three to four hours. Most women should be able to wait three to six hours between bathroom breaks.
- Perform Kegel exercises regularly.
A bladder-retraining program can take six to eight weeks to prove effective.
Talk to a doctor if your symptoms are interfering with your overall health. Let them know if you’ve tried these remedies. Your doctor will work with you to find an appropriate treatment. This may include OAB medications or surgery. Read more about the surgical options for OAB here.