The Link Between Urinary Incontinence and COPD
Last updated: June 2023
Everyone has experienced urinary incontinence at some point in their life, but people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more likely to experience this. Urinary incontinence is a medical term describing situations where urine is leaked by accident. It is very common; in fact, nearly 50% of women and 15% of men experience it at some point in their lives.1-2
The following article will outline other risk factors, in addition to a diagnosis of COPD, for urinary incontinence. It will also highlight the various treatment options available.
Symptoms of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence can present with various symptoms involving urine leakage, such as:3
- Bed wetting
- Leaking during exercising, coughing, or other activities involving exertion
- A sense of urgency, for example not being able to reach the bathroom in time
What are risk factors for urinary incontinence?
In addition to COPD, there are many risk factors that increase the incidence of urinary incontinence. Some of these risk factors are non-modifiable, but others you may have more control over:4
- Weight - women who are overweight with a body mass index greater than 30 are three times more likely to experience urinary incontinence.
- Age - the prevalence of involuntary leakage increases with age.
- Family history - studies show that there is a genetic involvement, particularly if the incontinence started prior to middle age.
- Medical conditions - certain medical conditions linked to urinary incontinence include diabetes, stroke, enlarged prostate, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis.
- Certain medications - some medications have a negative effect on bladder function, such as estrogen replacement therapy, certain antipsychotics, diuretics, and others. A physician or pharmacist can assess an individual's medication list to determine whether any of the medications could be worsening symptoms.
Link to COPD
There are several reasons hypothesized why COPD can worsen or lead to urinary leakage issues. These include:1
- Coughing can increase abdominal pressure, leading to stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is a specific type of incontinence that occurs during movement or activity.
- Medications commonly prescribed for COPD, including some inhalers.
Urinary incontinence is under-treated, partially due to patients' hesitation to discuss this topic. The goals of treatment include minimizing the number of leakage events and improving quality of life. Treatment options include:4
- Lifestyle - weight loss if appropriate, pelvic floor exercises, bladder training, are all lifestyle interventions that may be suggested by your doctor. Changes in diet may also be recommended, such as reducing alcohol and caffeinated drink consumption.
- Medications - medications prescribed will depend on what type of incontinence diagnosed. On the flip side, discontinuing offending medications that may be worsening symptoms may be considered as well.
- Surgery - when other options fail to improve symptoms, surgery may be recommended.
Urinary incontinence can be treated; your quality of life does not have to be negatively affected. Speak to your doctor and discuss these treatment options. While this can be an intimidating discussion, speaking about these topics openly can help encourage others to do the same.
Have you or a loved one experienced urinary incontinence and decided to seek treatment? Share your experiences below.
Where do you stand with your COPD?