Women with urinary incontinence who also enjoy their regular cup of coffee or tea don’t have to worry about the extra caffeine making their condition worse, suggests a new study.
The new research stands in contrast to the common recommendation that women with leaky bladders stay away from caffeinated foods and beverages.
“If a woman feels she wants to abstain from caffeine that’s completely fine, but based on our results, women with moderate incontinence shouldn’t be concerned,” said Mary Townsend, the study’s lead author from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Still, the findings cannot say whether caffeine might have a shorter-term impact by making women need to urinate soon after eating or drinking something caffeinated.
According to Townsend, there are some biological reasons for women with incontinence to stay away from caffeine – such as that it increases the production of urine and may give some the urge to go.
But it’s been unclear whether a daily caffeine habit is tied to worsening incontinence over the long run.
Urinary incontinence isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. It can be caused by everyday habits, underlying medical conditions or physical problems. A thorough evaluation by your doctor can help determine what’s behind your incontinence.
Causes of temporary urinary incontinence
Certain foods, drinks and medications can cause temporary urinary incontinence. A simple change in habits can bring relief.
Alcohol. Alcohol acts as a bladder stimulant and a diuretic, which can cause an urgent need to urinate.
Overhydration. Drinking a lot of fluids, especially in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine your bladder has to deal with.
Caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic and a bladder stimulant that can cause a sudden need to urinate.
Bladder irritation. Carbonated drinks, tea and coffee – with or without caffeine – artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and foods and beverages that are high in spice, sugar and acid, such as citrus and tomatoes, can aggravate your bladder.
Medications. Heart medications, blood pressure drugs, sedatives, muscle relaxants and other medications may contribute to bladder control problems.
Easily treatable medical conditions also may be responsible for urinary incontinence.
To try to answer that question, the researchers looked at data on about 21,500 women enrolled in two large studies, each of which tracked the long-term health of U.S. nurses through surveys starting in the 1970s or 1980s.
Townsend and her colleagues selected women with moderate incontinence – defined as leaking urine one to three times per month – from participants who were asked about incontinence and caffeine consumption in 2002 or 2003.
The National Institutes of Health have estimated that over 10 million adult Americans (70% of whom are women) have urinary incontinence. Unfortunately, the makers of protective adult undergarments, diapers that is, would like us to believe that this is a normal part of life that must be dealt with, of course using their products. However, this is not a normal condition, and most of the time this problem can be cured, or at least greatly improved. Consider this: over $10 billion per year is spent on this condition, however, only 1% of that amount goes to the diagnosis and treatment of this condition, while a full 60% is spent on palliative measures, such as adult diapers or protective pads.
According to the International Continence Society, the definition of urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine that becomes a social or hygienic problem for the individual, and which is observed clinically. Many women will experience an occasional leakage that is simply annoying or inconvenient for them, these individuals would not be considered incontinent.
The women were questioned about how much caffeine they ate or drank in the form of coffee, tea, soda or chocolate over the previous few years.
Two years later, when they were again surveyed about incontinence, about 20 percent of women said their symptoms had gotten worse and they now leaked urine at least once per week. That was consistent regardless of how much caffeine they’d reported eating and drinking.
The researchers also didn’t find a link between women who increased their caffeine consumption between the survey years and worsening urinary symptoms—either for general incontinence or for overactive bladder in particular. Women can also suffer from stress and overflow incontinence, said Dr. Larissa Rodriguez, co-director of the division of female urology, reconstructive surgery and urodynamics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, in an email.
Leaks related to stress incontinence can be brought on by any activity that puts stress on the bladder, like sneezing or laughing. Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder does not empty properly, and urge incontinence or overactive bladder is the sudden need to go the bathroom.
Coffee may have ‘little effect’ on urinary incontinence
Cutting back on coffee and tea may not significantly affect women’s reliance on incontinence products, a study has found.
Scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute studied more than 14,000 twins and found that those who drank tea did not have a significantly increased risk of urinary incontinence .
In fact, when age was taken into account, those who regularly drank coffee actually had a slightly reduced risk of incontinence . Lead author Giorgio Tettamanti, whose findings are published in the journal BJOG, told Reuters Health that the results of previous studies on urinary incontinence and caffeine have been inconsistent.
He claimed: “What we found is not really surprising, but it goes against current knowledge.”
Nancy Nairi Maserejian, an epidemiologist who was not involved in the Swedish study, told Reuters Health that women who use incontinence products should not view the latest research as a reason to drink more coffee.
She explained: “I don’t think we can make a blanket statement from this study. Moderation is key and women have to talk to their physicians and decide what works for them.” At present, NHS experts advise people with urinary incontinence to cut back on caffeine and drink between six and eight glasses of fluids per day.
As for treatments, behavioral changes, weight loss and certain exercises may help, said Rodriguez, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“There are not many effective medications but minimally invasive surgeries can be curative,” she added.
According to the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study, the majority of women can get relief without surgery.
Townsend said most women in the study did not even tell their doctors about their incontinence.
Coffee and tea
Coffee and tea, once your best friends, may now be your worst enemies.
They contain caffeine, which like alcohol, is both a diuretic and a bladder irritant.
“Caffeine is implicated in directly causing irritation of the bladder lining. People who do have bladder problems, on average, do better if they reduce their caffeine consumption, so it’s the first thing we look at,” says John L. Phillips, M.D., program director of urology at New York Medical College, in Valhalla, New York.
Decaf coffee and tea, which contain small amounts of caffeine, may be no better. If you love your caffeine, cut back slowly to avoid headaches and other withdrawal symptoms.
Sorry chocolate lovers, but thanks in part to the caffeine content, this sugary treat may spell trouble for an overactive bladder.
It doesn’t matter if it’s dark or milk chocolate, hot chocolate, or chocolate milk (which contains about the same amount of caffeine as decaf coffee).
When it comes to incontinence, all might pose a problem.
She also said the new findings, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, need to be confirmed with more research because there’s a possibility that caffeine could make urinary symptoms worse over longer than a few years.
The study was also limited because incontinence symptoms were reported by the women themselves and not measured by a doctor, and the researchers didn’t take treatment for incontinence into consideration.
SOURCE: Obstetrics & Gynecology, online April 23, 2012.
Caffeine Intake and Risk of Urinary Incontinence Progression Among Women
Long-term caffeine intake over 1 year was not associated with risk of UI progression over 2 years among women with moderate incontinence, although we could not examine acute effects of caffeine. Improved understanding of the effect of caffeine on the bladder is needed to better-advise women with incontinence about caffeine intake.
Townsend, Mary K. ScD; Resnick, Neil M. MD; Grodstein, Francine ScD
Obstetrics & Gynecology:
May 2012 – Volume 119 – Issue 5 – p 950–957