Smoking, Other Behaviors May Increase Women’s Risk of Incontinence

New York, NY
October 30, 2003

Women who used to or currently smoke heavily may increase their risk of developing urinary incontinence, a recent study reports.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, at least 10 million Americans suffer from incontinence, which means they are unable to control how often they urinate. The condition occurs most commonly in women and older adults.

“Although urinary incontinence can be controlled by treatment, it can also be an embarrassing and debilitating problem,” says Brian Pereira, MD, president of the National Kidney Foundation. “These findings give smokers one more good reason to quit.”

The results stem from a report designed to determine whether a woman’s lifestyle – for example, if she smokes or exercises heavily, and what she drinks – can influence whether or not she develops urinary incontinence.

As part of the research, 27,936 women living in Norway completed surveys about their behaviors and whether they have incontinence.

The investigators found that women who currently smoke or those who used to smoke at least 20 cigarettes each day were significantly more likely to have urinary incontinence than those who never smoked. Former or current heavy smokers were more than twice as likely to develop severe incontinence at least once a week.

In addition, women who downed at least one cup of tea each day were more likely to show signs of incontinence. No relationship was seen between urinary incontinence and drinking either coffee or alcohol.

“Despite the apparent link between drinking tea and urinary incontinence, other studies point to the benefits of drinking tea on a regular basis, and women should not cut out tea based solely on the results of this recent report,” says Pereira.

Women who engaged in high intensity physical activity appeared to have no higher risk of incontinence.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, relief from urine leakage can be found once a doctor finds the cause. Some treatments that have helped people include drugs, behavioral therapy, special exercises, biofeedback, electrical stimulation and surgery.

But treatment does not come cheap: the cost of treating urinary incontinence in patients 65 and older is $26.3 billion annually.

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