A young man sits with his chin on his hands, looking dejected. Around him are floating happy foods, including ice cream, pizza, a cookie, and a tub of Cool Whip. trigger foods,

The Seemingly Impossible Task of Avoiding Bladder Irritants

Thinking back on my first urology appointment, sometimes I have to laugh. The urologist was the first doctor in years who actually listened to my symptoms and took the appropriate actions.

At one point, I had to urinate so badly that I had bolted out of the room to go to the bathroom. She thought I had gotten scared and just left. Maybe I should have been scared, but I wasn't. I just wanted the pain, discomfort, and urination of blood clots to end.

Bladder irritant audacity

When I returned to the exam room, she came in, explained what the next steps were - CT scans, MRI, and cystoscopy. On my way out of the appointment, she handed me a bunch of paperwork, including a list of bladder irritants that I was to avoid. I looked through the list and laughed. She asked me what was funny.

"Almost every item on this list are things that I thoroughly enjoy eating!" She tried to be encouraging and let me know that we would get everything scheduled as quickly as possible so just try to avoid these things.

Bladder irritants

BeveragesAlcohol, tea, coffee, cola drinks, carbonated drinks, fruit juices, and sodas
Milk/dairy productsAged cheese, sour cream, yogurt and chocolate
VegetablesFava and lima beans, soybeans, onions, tofu, and tomatoes
FruitsApples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, cranberries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pineapples, plums, pomegranates, rhubarb, and strawberries
BreadsSourdough and rye
Meats and fishAged, canned, cured, processed, or smoked meats and fish. Food containing nitrates or nitrites such as anchovies, caviar, chicken livers, corned beef, and meats
NutsMost nuts
SeasoningsMayo, ketchup, mustard, salsa, soy sauce, and miso, salad dressing, vinegar, including balsamic and flavored vinegars, and spicy foods
Preserves and additivesBenzol alcohol, citric acid, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners, foods containing preservatives and artificial ingredients and colors
MiscellaneousTobacco, caffeine, diet pills, junk foods, cold and allergy medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and certain vitamins (Vitamin C, B-Complex vitamins, multivitamins)

Reference: Bringham and Women's Hospital: Brigham Urogynecology Group. Dietary Bladder Irritants to the Bladder. 2015. https://www.brighamandwomens.org/assets/BWH/obgyn/pdfs/bladder-irritants.pdf. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Where to start

Driving home, I just kept thinking about the list. How in the WORLD was I going to avoid all those things?! It was impossible. I'd end up going hungry or eating all the kinds of things I shouldn't be having in the first place!

A week and a half later, I had my cystoscopy on a Tuesday. That Friday, I received my bladder cancer diagnosis and scheduled an appointment to see the urology oncology surgeon I still see today. I was told that if I could continue to avoid the bladder irritants, I should as much as I possibly could.

Be realistic

About 5 weeks from receiving my diagnosis was when I had my radical cystectomy. In that 5 weeks, a lot had happened. There was no way that I was able to avoid everything on that list for basically 2 months.

I did my best to listen to my body. I tried smaller quantities of some of the things on that list. I did my best to figure out what irritated my bladder more. I wanted to keep my bladder calm and happy. I did not want to poke the beast and make it angry.

Practice, practice, practice

I more or less got the hang of it, but for someone like me, who eats a lot of ethnic dishes and spicy foods—a person who loves her dairy, nuts, and meats. I will use the herbs and spices before I will ever touch the salt. Eating off of that list was nearly torture.

One of the few things that kept me going through those weeks was knowing that my bladder would be gone. I would never have to avoid a "bladder irritant" again! Little did I know at that time that I would have some dietary restrictions post-op and during chemo, but that is a whole different can of worms.

What have your experiences been in avoiding bladder irritants? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with those who are faced with this task now?

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