If you are one of the 30 to 50% of women suffering from urinary incontinence, new research suggests that this condition might lead to a greater health issue.
According to RUSH researchers, a study published in the January issue of Menopause shows that more frequent urinary incontinence and urine loss are associated with a higher risk of disability.
Often, symptoms of urinary incontinence are ignored until they become bothersome or restrict physical or social activities. As this study suggests that urinary incontinence is associated with disabilities, exploring treatment options at an early stage may help reduce this outcome in middle-aged women.
Sheila Dugan, MD, Head of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at RUSH
Many women are affected by urinary incontinence at some point in their lives, she said. Some women lose urine when sneezing or coughing, which is known as stress incontinence.
„When you sneeze or cough, there’s a mechanical pressure from your abdomen that overwhelms the closing muscles and causes you to leak,“ she said.
Others suffer from urge incontinence, an overwhelming need to urinate, for example, when approaching a toilet. Women experiencing both are said to have mixed urinary incontinence, Dugan said.
The researchers took into account the extent and frequency of incontinence and whether the study participants suffered from stress incontinence, urge incontinence, or both.
Then the researchers measured disability using the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule as an outcome of interest.
„We found that mixed incontinence, along with daily incontinence and larger amounts of incontinence, were most significantly correlated with disability,“ Dugan said.
Dugan was involved in the development of the Abdominal and Pelvic Health Program at RUSH, which treats various conditions, including urinary incontinence. Each patient is evaluated to identify the causes and treatment options. For example, muscles are examined to determine if tight bands in the muscles are causing incontinence, or if weak muscles are responsible.
„With tight muscles, a woman may try to tighten the muscles further through more exercise, without realizing that this may worsen the incontinence,“ Dugan said. „Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs, and organ problems can lead to muscle problems or vice versa. A patient may suffer from incontinence due to hip arthritis, another due to a difficult childbirth, or it can be caused by cancer treatment, for example, radiation, in the pelvic region.“
There are a number of potential causes, or even a combination of causes, of incontinence. The data used came from a larger clinical study called SWAN (The Study of Women Across the Nation), which involved over 1,800 participants. SWAN was established in 1994, with seven locations in the United States, to identify changes occurring during the menopausal transition in middle-aged women and their impact on later health and the risk of age-related diseases.
„Further studies are needed to show what causes this correlation, with a focus on prevention,“ Dugan said.
Rush University Medical Center