There are many reasons why people develop urinary incontinence. Some underlying causes can only be addressed with medication or surgical intervention. However, in some patients, a change in habits is all it takes to make a substantial difference in UI symptoms like urge and frequent urination or overactive bladder. A study from researchers in Finland demonstrated just how effective lifestyle changes can be when it comes to UI symptoms by evaluating 2,000 women with urinary urge incontinence.
Researchers looked specifically at the effect of smoking on UI symptoms, comparing symptoms of women who were current or former smokers with those symptoms of women who never smoked. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that symptoms of urgency and frequency of urination were about three times more common among current smokers than those who had never smoked. Not only that, but the heavier smokersreported more severe symptoms than the light smokers, suggesting a dose-response relationship between smoking and UI symptoms.
Although researchers aren’t sure how smoking affects bladder control, there are a couple of theories, including one linking toxins, like nicotine, to bladder irritation. This irritation can cause an increase in urge and bladder contractions. Smoking-induced coughing is another possible culprit. Each time you cough, substantial pressures are exerted on the bladder, making it much more likely for leakage to occur.
And of course, smoking is also related to a higher incidence of cancers including bladder cancer, which in turn can cause symptoms of urge incontinence.
To date, there are no studies showing how long it can take for symptoms to improve once you stop smoking, but the take-home message of this study is clear: If you want to help yourself to better bladder control and potentially a decrease or even elimination of symptoms, one of the most important lifestyle changes you can adopt is to quit smoking.
For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov or the American Cancer Society website, and if you’re experiencing symptoms of incontinence, schedule an appointment right away to make sure those symptoms aren’t signs of a more serious underlying condition.