Urinary Incontinence Has a Genetic Cause


Urinary incontinence can be an embarrassing and life-disrupting condition that can be treated with medications and other therapies. Now a new study of twins shows that half of people’s susceptibility to urinary incontinence has a genetic cause.

Urinary incontinence affects women and men

Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, is a very common problem, especially among older adults. Women are more likely than men to develop bladder controls problems, and about one-third can expect to be affected at some point in their lives.

Women tend to experience stress incontinence, which is urine leakage that can occur when there is an increase in abdominal pressure, as when lifting, sneezing, or coughing. Urine leaks because the pelvic floor muscles have been weakened, which can be associated with pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, obesity, and other reasons.

Men typically experience urge or overflow incontinence associated with prostate problems. In urge incontinence, the bladder contracts abnormally; overflow incontinence is when the bladder does not empty as it should.


In the new study conducted by experts at the University of Gothenburg and Karolinska Institutet, it has been shown “for the first time how important the genetic component is for various types of urinary tract disorder,” according to Anna Lena Wennberg, a gynecologist and one of the study’s authors.

The research team evaluated data from the Swedish Twin Registry at Karolinska Institutet that involved more than 25,000 Swedish twins aged 20 to 46. The authors used a method that determines the difference between people due to genetic variation and looked at information about urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, and other lower urinary tract symptoms.

When the researchers compared the prevalence of urinary symptoms in identical twins with those in non-identical twins, they found that regarding urinary incontinence, 51 percent of the variation was due to genetic factors. Wennberg explained that this means “around 50% of people’s susceptibility to urinary incontinence can be explained by their genes.”

Wennberg noted that a number of different genes likely have a role in urinary incontinence. These genetic factors then interact with environmental factors or cause conditions that can increase a person’s risk of developing urinary incontinence.

Although urinary incontinence may have significant genetic cause, treatments, at least for now, will continue to address environmental and lifestyle factors, such as overweight, smoking, and diet. Some treatments currently employed include bladder training, pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel exercises), electrical stimulation, radiofrequency therapy, and various medications, among others.

University of Gothenburg


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