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Researchers find genetic link to female urinary incontinence

The first genetic variants to be associated with female urinary incontinence have been identified.

Researchers based in the UK and Poland carried out a genome-wide association study using data from 8,997 people and then confirmed their findings in a cohort of 4,069.

The team detected five genetic loci associated with stress and urgency incontinence, including two that were replicated in the second cohort. 

One of these was located near the gene encoding endothelin 1, which is involved in muscle contraction in the bladder. This genetic variant was strongly associated with urgency urinary incontinence, a sudden and uncontrollable need to urinate that affects around 5% of women.

Another genetic variant linked to urinary incontinence in both cohorts was identified near a gene called MARCO, which is involved in immune function.

Although stress and urinary incontinence have been shown to be heritable, no genetic variants had previously been associated with the conditions.

The findings indicate that drugs targeting the endothelin pathway could be effective in urgency incontinence, such as those already used for treating pulmonary hypertension and Raynaud’s syndrome, the researchers say.

The identification of genetic variants could also lead to screening women for risk of developing the condition to help improve the advice given to them during pregnancy and inform the choice of delivery, the team suggests.

“Clearly this will need further debate and an analysis, not just of the cost to healthcare systems, but also of the benefit to women who may be spared the distress of urinary incontinence,” says researcher Rufus Cartwright at Imperial College London, who presented the findings[1] at the European Society of Human Genetics Annual Conference in Copenhagen.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202869

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Supplementary images

  • older woman using protection pad against urinary incontinence

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