A link exists between the two, but more research is needed to figure out why and how to treat urinary incontinence related to COVID-19.
COVID-19 tends to affect the respiratory system. But
People who already have urinary conditions may notice their symptoms worsening with or after COVID-19 infection.
Similarly, COVID-19 may contribute to urinary symptoms in those who didn’t have them before.
One 2020 study found that the most common urinary symptoms associated with COVID-19 were urinating 13 or more times in a 24-hour period and urinating four or more times at night.
The reason for this is still unclear. The inflammation that comes from viral infections
But most of these studies didn’t assess a person’s usual urinary habits before vaccination, meaning it’s difficult to say what effect the vaccination had, if any.
Although such side effects are considered rare, they may be due to the body’s natural immune response to the vaccine.
Lots of other things can cause or contribute to urinary incontinence, including:
- infections of the urinary system
- certain medications like diuretics and hormone replacement therapy
- damage to pelvic floor muscles, such as from childbirth
- increased pressure on the stomach due to pregnancy or obesity
- surgeries like hysterectomy, which can damage the bladder area
- excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol
It’s not just COVID-19 infection that may have recently affected the number of people with urinary incontinence — the lifestyle changes that came with the pandemic could come into play, too.
For example, people may have exercised less or simply moved around less due to lockdowns — a
How do you know if you have urinary incontinence?
If you have urinary incontinence, you’ll experience a loss of bladder control. The following symptoms are common:
- urinating when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or exercise
- urinating during the night
- needing to urinate more often than usual
- feeling like you suddenly need to urinate
- dribbling urine throughout the day
Physical activities are common treatments for urinary incontinence.
A healthcare professional may ask you to fit more movement into your daily routine, strengthen your pelvic floor, or hold your urine for short periods of a few minutes, gradually increasing over time.
If there are specific triggers for your incontinence such as caffeine or alcohol, avoiding these may also help.
If specific exercises and lifestyle changes don’t seem to help, medications to either reduce inflammation or help the bladder store more urine may be an option.
The last resort tends to be surgery or procedures to stimulate bladder nerves.
But there’s no research into which treatment, if any, is effective for people with urinary symptoms related to COVID-19.
Symptoms may naturally improve over time as the body recovers from COVID-19. Most people have recovered from COVID-19 fully within 3 months. But some people experience long COVID, which may mean symptoms last longer.
Does urinary incontinence increase your risk of COVID-19?
There doesn’t appear to be evidence that incontinence affects your risk of developing COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 increase your risk of urinary incontinence?
Some researchers believe that lower urinary tract symptoms, such as needing to urinate more frequently, should be listed as a symptom of COVID-19.
That means COVID-19 may cause or contribute to urinary conditions like incontinence. A more severe infection may result in more severe urinary symptoms.
But these may only be temporary and disappear when the body recovers from the viral infection.
Can COVID-19 affect pre-existing urinary symptoms or cause complications?
People who already have urinary conditions may notice their symptoms getting worse with COVID-19.
Again, this may only be a temporary worsening that goes back to normal when a person fully recovers.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine affect pre-existing urinary symptoms or cause complications?
A few studies did report urination frequency, urgency, and incontinence as potential side effects of being vaccinated.
And some people with pre-existing overactive bladder had
But it’s difficult to say whether the vaccine was to blame or whether other factors had an effect.
These effects are also not thought to be particularly common.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected urinary incontinence diagnosis and treatment?
The pandemic’s effect on activity levels and mental health conditions may have led to an increase in people with urinary symptoms.
But that’s not the only impact the pandemic has had. The healthcare system was majorly affected with doctors and hospitals still trying to catch up.
While it’s possible to diagnose and treat urinary incontinence remotely (unless surgery is needed), some diagnoses may be missed with the switch to virtual appointments, particularly in older communities that may not be tech-savvy.
It may also be harder to see or speak to a doctor for a diagnosis due to delays in access to care.
When it comes to treatment, surgical procedures faced delays, too. A 2020 study in Brazil showed a more than 50% reduction in stress incontinence surgery among women.
Urinary incontinence and other urinary symptoms may be a symptom of COVID-19. And the virus may contribute to more severe symptoms in people with pre-existing urinary conditions.
But more research is needed to prove that link and to determine the most effective treatment options.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.