Updated 25 July 2016

Cigarette smoking a strong risk factor for urinary incontinence

Smoking can take its toll on your bladder and may even contribute to incontinence - all the more reason to quit smoking on World No Tobacco Day 2015.


If you haven’t yet managed to quit smoking, you might want to consider doing so for the sake of your bladder to mark this year’s World No Tobacco Day on 31 May. Cigarette smoking has been shown to be a strong risk factor for urinary incontinence or bladder weakness.

There are two main kinds incontinence that can be triggered by smoking: stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Cigarette smoking causes chronic coughing, which can damage the muscles of the pelvic floor, and destabilise them. Smoking is also known to be a bladder irritant, and urge incontinence – the strong and sudden need to urinate – is three times more common among women who smoke.

The Norwegian EPINCONT study showed a “dose-response” relationship between smoking and bladder control: the more women smoke, the more frequent and strong their need to urinate.

No-one really knows why cigarette smoking causes women to lose bladder control, only that it does. And even worse, smoking cigarettes is a risk factor for bladder cancer, which can present with overactive bladder symptoms and urge incontinence.

Quitting smoking could improve your symptoms significantly — or even almost stop the problem entirely — but just cutting down on how much you smoke may help, too. But to really sort out your smoking-related bladder issues, you’ll need a plan that combines quitting techniques with bladder-control tactics.

Strategies to quit smoking include:

• Build social support – it’s not an easy thing to do, and family, friends and support groups can all help.

• Look into interventions for quitters like medications or nicotine delivery systems like patches, which can ease withdrawal symptoms.

• Don’t be discouraged if you can’t give it up the first time. Just keep trying.

Strategies for good bladder control include:

• Avoiding spicy foods, citrus drinks and foods, caffeinated drinks, sodas, and artificial sweeteners, all of which can irritate the bladder.

• Timed urination: practise going to the toilet at set times during the day. Gradually increase the interval between toilet trips – you should only need to go every four hours or so.

• Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to achieve better bladder control.

• Losing weight: being overweight may increase overactive bladder symptoms.

• Drinking fluids: cutting back on fluids to try and control your bladder weakness can actually irritate it more. Ensure you stay well-hydrated.

• Wear a purpose-made incontinence product to catch any leaks. Purpose-made products like those produced by TENA are designed to cope with leakage and odour, and are discreet and comfortable to wear.

For advice please call us on 0860 673 377. Visit TENA for more information or to order a free sample.

Read more:

TENA products offer the best protection against bladder weakness
Live A Full Life With TENA Lady Mini Magic™
Is your pregnancy causing bladder incontinence?
10 things you didn’t know about urinary incontinence


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Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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