New Study Shows Hormone Replacement Therapy Ups Risk of Urinary Incontinence

New York, NY
October 30, 2003

New research adds another item to the ever-growing list of risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, or HRT: incontinence. Investigators found that postmenopausal women who took HRT were between two and three times more likely to develop urinary incontinence than similarly-aged women who were hormone-free—even after only one year of treatment.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, at least 10 million Americans suffer from incontinence, which means that they are not able to control the times when they urinate. In some cases, the loss of urine is so small that people are hardly aware of it. In other cases, the amount of leakage is quite large.

This oft-times debilitating problem can appear in all age groups, but it occurs more commonly as people age.

In the recent report, the investigators followed 1,228 initially continent postmenopausal women for an average of four years, to determine who developed problems with bladder control. Half of the women took a daily dose of the combined form of HRT, consisting of estrogen plus progestin, while the other half received an inactive, or placebo, drug. The average age among study participants was 66.

The researchers found that women who took hormones were more likely to report new episodes of urinary incontinence. Furthermore, the longer they took the drug, the more likely they were to become incontinent.

Specifically, although women were already between two and three times more likely to become incontinent after only one year of HRT, taking the drugs for another three years increased their risk by up to almost five times that seen in women who did not receive HRT.

“Given that recent reports show that taking hormones after menopause may also slightly increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, blood clots, breast cancer and stroke, women who can avoid hormone replacement therapy should do so,” says Brian Pereira, MD, president of the National Kidney Foundation.

Urinary incontinence can be a distressing problem, but one that can often be stopped or lessened after the doctor finds the cause. Some treatments that have helped other people include drugs, behavioral therapy, special exercises, biofeedback, electrical stimulation and surgery.

For more information about urinary incontinence, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010.