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Caffeine not tied to worsening urinary incontinence

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – 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 incontinence avoid 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 Dr. 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.

Dr. Townsend noted there are some biological reasons for women with incontinence to stay away from caffeine. For example, it increases the production of urine and may give some the urge to urinate.

But it’s been unclear whether a daily caffeine habit is tied to worsening incontinence over the long run. To try to answer that question, the researchers looked at data on roughly 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.

Dr. 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 women were questioned about how much caffeine they consumed in the form of coffee, tea, soda or chocolate. Two years later, when they were again surveyed about incontinence, about 20% said their symptoms had gotten worse and they now leaked urine at least once per week.

“The percentage of women with urinary incontinence progression was similar across categories of baseline level of caffeine intake,” the authors reported. Similarly, they were unable to find a link between increased caffeine consumption and worsening urinary symptoms — either for general incontinence or for overactive bladder in particular.

Dr. Townsend said most women in the study did not even tell their doctors about their incontinence.

She also said the new findings, published April 23rd in Obstetrics & Gynecology, need to be confirmed with more research because it’s possible that caffeine could make urinary symptoms worse over longer follow-up.

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.


Obstet Gynecol 2012.