Womens Health

Can Birth Control Pills Treat Urinary Incontinence?

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Hormones control our bladders as well as our hearts and minds. And it's not just your hormones, it can be the hormones you ingest. Women who have bladder dysfunction can be any age, any weight, any genetic background, although there are multiple factors that contribute. And it's now been found that there's another non-contraceptive benefit to The Pill: Women of child-bearing age who use oral contraceptives face a lower risk of lower urinary tract dysfunction than women of similar ages who do not, say researchers from Sweden.

"Hormone intake in the form of oral contraceptives has the potential to positively influence bladder and urethral function," Dr. Daniel Altman from Karolinska Institutet Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden told Reuters Health. This group has pretty much done what most gynos would call preliminary work. Rounding up twins, and studying them via the web, they came to these conclusions.

They were looking for various bladder disorders, including stress incontinence - or leaking with coughing and sneezing - and urgency incontinence (or mixed incontinence, if they had both), overactive bladder - as in running to the bathroom all the time, or nocturia - getting up all night to pee. It was reported in the August issue of Fertility and Sterility, the investigators report that 8689 twins answered the call of the bladder, and their conclusions were that current use of oral contraceptives was associated with a 43% lower risk of stress urinary incontinence, a 48% lower risk of mixed urinary incontinence, and a 64% lower risk of urgency urinary incontinence. Not only that, but the twins were remarkably similar in their answers, reinforcing our belief that bladder behavior is in the genes!

When it comes to older women,  the investigators point out that there is only conflicting evidence on the effects of hormone intake on lower urinary tract symptoms in women who are past menopause. Some consensus reports have supported this approach, but findings from the Women's Health Initiative, for example, do not support the use of either hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives for treating urinary incontinence in older women. It is important to note, that is was a population based study. Sonot really a study specifically of women with overt disease. And it's not really known if a woman with an actual medical problem that needs treatment could, for instance, avoid treatment with other medications if she just got on The Pill and stayed on the pill. But it's a provocative idea, and one that could be tried if you want suggestions of something you can try before you get on longer-term medication.

Fertil Steril. 2009;92:428-433. Abstract