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Susceptibility to Urinary Incontinence Linked to Genetic Factors

University of Gothenburg in collaboration with the Swedish Twin Registry at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden studied just over 25,000 Swedish twins aged 20 to 46. Information about urinary incontinence, overactive bladder and other lower urinary tract symptoms were analysed using a statistical method which measures how much of the difference between people is due to genetic variation. By comparing the prevalence of these symptoms in identical twins, who have identical genes, and non-identical twins, who share half of their genetic material, the researchers were able to draw conclusions about the relative significance of genetic and environmental factors.

Gynecologist Anna Lena Wennberg, one of the researchers behind the study said “incontinence is caused by a combination of factors and we already knew that there are hereditary factors, but now we’ve been able to show for the first time how important the genetic component is for various types of urinary tract disorder”.

In urinary incontinence, half of the variation (51%) can be explained by genetic factors. This means that around 50% of people’s susceptibility to urinary incontinence can be explained by their genes.

In nocturia – the need to get up in the night to urinate, 34% of the variation has a genetic explanation.

Wennberg does not believe that there is a single incontinence gene, rather that a number of different genes play a role. These genes combine with various environmental factors or cause disorders which, in turn, increase the risk of urinary incontinence.

“Urinary incontinence is a multifactorial condition, and while we now know that much of the variation between people is down to their genes, treatment will continue to focus on environmental factors which are easier to influence, such as smoking and excess weight.”

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