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Women suffering from urinary incontinence more prone to future disability: Study | health news


If you’re one of the 30 to 50 percent of women who suffer from urinary incontinence, new research reveals it could be a major health problem. According to RUSH researchers in a study published in the January issue of Menopause, more frequent urinary incontinence and leakage are associated with a higher likelihood of disability. “Symptoms from urinary incontinence are often ignored until they become problematic or limit physical or social activities,” says Sheila Dugan, MD, chair of RUSH’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “Because this study suggests that urinary incontinence is associated with disability, exploring early treatment options may help reduce this outcome in midlife women.”

Urinary incontinence affects many women at some point in their lives, she said. Some women leak urine when they sneeze or cough, which is called stress incontinence. “When you sneeze or cough, there’s a mechanical pressure from your stomach that squeezes the sphincter and you leak,” he said.

Others experience overwhelming urges to urinate, such as severe incontinence when they are near a restroom. Women who experience both are called mixed urinary incontinence, Duggan said. The researchers considered the amount and frequency of incontinence and whether the study participant had stress incontinence, urge incontinence, or both. The researchers then measured disability as the outcome of interest by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Scale.

“We found that mixed incontinence was most associated with disability, with daily incontinence and greater amounts of incontinence,” Duggan said. Duggan helped develop programs for abdominal and pelvic health at RUSH, which treat a variety of conditions, including urinary incontinence. Each patient is examined to determine the cause and treatment options. For example, the muscles are evaluated to uncover whether tight bands of muscle are causing the incontinence or whether weak muscles are responsible.
“In the case of tight muscles, a woman may try to tighten the muscles with more exercise, not knowing that this can make incontinence worse,” Duggan said. “Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs, and organ problems can cause muscle problems or vice versa. One patient may have incontinence due to hip arthritis, another due to a difficult delivery, or it may be due to cancer treatment, for example, radiation to the pelvic area.”

Incontinence has several possible causes or combinations of causes. The data used were from a larger clinical trial called SWAN (Study of Women Across the Nation) that included more than 1,800 participants. SWAN was initiated in 1994 with seven sites across the United States to identify changes during menopause in midlife women and their impact on subsequent health and risk of age-related diseases. “Further studies are needed to show what causes this association with a focus on prevention,” Duggan said.

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