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Incontinence, OAB and Caffeine

There a number of self-help tips and lifestyle changes to help with incontinence and OAB (overactive bladder) including various exercises, quitting smoking, losing weight and cutting down on alcohol, but caffeine is also a risk factor.

This is because caffeine can actually irritate the bladder for some people, particularly women, due to the diuretic effect of caffeine and Caffeine can also make the muscles that contract when you void overactive.

There has been some scientific research, but it must be said that the research is not conclusive.

The main headline of the study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School's Division of Women's Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery is as follows:

Women who consume high levels of caffeine are 70% more likely to have urinary incontinence than women who don't.

So, how did this study come to this conclusion?

The researchers evaluated data on 1,356 women, aged 20 to 85, who had participated in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a large nationally representative survey. The women kept food diaries on two separate days and also answered questions about bladder function.

From this research, they discovered that women who reported consuming - 329 milligrams of caffeine a day, equivalent to 3 cups of coffee daily, had a 70% higher likelihood of having the bladder problem.

However, there are other factors to consider, such as that people who had a high caffeine intake were more likely to be aged 40-59 and to drink alcohol.

In short, there are other risk factors that could contribute to this result, so it’s not completely clear.

There is some more research on the matter – this time from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who published a study in the mid-1990s that returned similar results as the University of Alabama study.

Lilly Arya, MD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Pennyslvania, who led the study, commented that ''What these studies are really finding [is that] high levels of caffeine are associated with urinary incontinence,".

It must be stated for the record that Lilly Arya is also a consultant for Pfizer, Astellas, and Duramed, who are makers of incontinence drugs or products.

So, what to do if you suffer OBS or incontinence?

It might be preferable to go cold turkey and cut out caffeine altogether and replace it with decaf coffee, water and herbal or fruit teas.

But, that’s not always right for everyone.

Lilly Arya MD says: 'For the woman with bladder problems, it should ideally be zero caffeine”. For women who really need that cup of coffee, she counsels:  "Have a cup, one small cup, but make it as small as you can, definitely less than 8 ounces."

And for women without bladder problems Lily Arya MD says: "Up to two cups a day is generally fine. No bigger than 12 ounces, and the second cup should preferably be decaffeinated coffee."

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