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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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Urine Leakage Not Due to Childbirth

Study of Sisters: Blame Genes, Not Kids, for Later-Life Urinary Incontinence

Sisters' Sisters and Urinary Incontinence continued...

The researchers looked at whether the women suffered urinary incontinence. They looked at whether they suffered stress incontinence (involuntary urination caused by activity such as coughing), urge incontinence (urination caused by overactive bladder), or mixed incontinence. They looked at incontinence severity. In every regard, the women who gave birth were no more likely to suffer urinary incontinence than their childless sisters.

"Everyone says vaginal delivery causes incontinence, so we looked at sisters sharing a genetic pool, to see what is the greatest risk factor -- having kids or coming from same family," Buchsbaum says. "Childbirth is no risk factor -- none."

Genetic Risk for Urinary Incontinence?

While having a child wasn't a risk for urinary incontinence, having a sister with the problem was a different story.

"Out of every three sister pairs, two had same status: Either both leaked urine or neither leaked urine," Buchsbaum says. "That's more than you would see by chance."

And when one sister had urinary incontinence and the other didn't, the sister with the problem was no more likely to have given birth than to be childless.

"So we think there is probably some genetic component that may predispose somebody for incontinence or not," Buchsbaum says. "Because we saw women with eight kids and no incontinence."

This doesn't surprise Niall Galloway, MD, medical director of the Emory Continence Center at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"I believe, based on the medical literature and our own experience, that urinary incontinence is a familial disease," Galloway tells WebMD. "The risks are going to be greater to daughters of women who already have these problems."

Not all women are built the same way, Galloway notes. This means vaginal delivery has different consequences for different women.

"The pelvic floor of one woman is different from another's, just as the telephone book of Ellijay, Ga., is different from that of Atlanta," Galloway says. "Life is not fair. Some women are going to be able to produce multiple children by vaginal delivery and never have a moment's setback. Others are going to have a single child, and their pelvic floor will be damaged forever."

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