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Urinary Incontinence in Women with Cystic Fibrosis

What Causes It and How to Treat It

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Updated June 30, 2008

Urinary incontinence, or involuntary leakage of urine, is a common problem in females with cystic fibrosis. The connection between CF and incontinence has only been recognized since the late 1990’s, and studies are still being done to understand the cause.

Who Gets Urinary Incontinence?

Studies have shown that the problem is not very common before the age of 20, but after that as many as 68% of women with cystic fibrosis have urine leakage to some degree. Men do not usually experience urinary incontinence as a symptom of CF.

What Causes It?

The jury is still out on the exact cause of urinary incontinence in women with cystic fibrosis. The most common explanation is that it is a form of stress incontinence caused by prolonged, frequent coughing that weakens the pelvic floor muscles. This theory would explain why the problem does not affect men, given the anatomical differences. Women have a short urethra, so urine doesn’t have to travel far to get from the bladder to the outside of the body. Men have a longer urethra and urine would have to take quite a journey to find its way out.

How is Urinary Incontinence Treated in People with CF?

While there are medications on the market to help stop bladder leakage, studies have shown that the best way to treat incontinence in women with CF is to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles with exercies. Women who are not experiencing incontinence can also do pelvic strengthening exercises to help prevent the problem from occurring.

Pelvic floor muscle exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, are done by squeezing and relaxing the same muscles that you use to control the flow of urine. These exercises are great because they can be done anywhere, even when sitting at your desk at work or on the couch watching television.

Source:
McVean, R.J., Orr, A., Webb, A.K., Bradbury, A., Kay, L., Philips, E., and Dodd, M.E. “Treatment of Urinary Incontinence in Cystic Fibrosis”. Journal of Cystic Fibrosis 2003 2:171-176. 20 June 2008.

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