What is the role of estrogen therapy in urinary incontinence treatment?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Estrogen therapy may have several positive effects in women with stress incontinence who are estrogen deficient. Estrogen may increase the density of alpha-receptors in the urethra. In addition, it increases the vascularity of the urethral mucosa and may augment the coaptive abilities of the urethral mucosa. In theory, those effects should translate into improved continence; however, several studies stand in opposition of those assumptions.

A number of small studies show oral estrogen therapy to be of no clinical benefit to women with stress incontinence or detrusor overactivity. In a subgroup analysis of postmenopausal women enrolled in the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS), worsening of incontinence occurred in 39% of patients in the hormone treatment group, compared with 27% of patients in the placebo group. [77]

In the Women's Health Initiative Study, women with baseline incontinence being treated with combined or unopposed estrogen oral therapy also showed exacerbation of symptoms significantly more often than women in the placebo group. In addition, women in the hormone-exposed groups with no baseline incontinence developed symptoms more often than those in the placebo group. [78]

Both of these trials present level 1 evidence against oral hormone therapy to treat incontinence. No adequate studies of local estrogen therapy exist. A meta-analysis found some evidence that local estrogen may improve incontinence, but there was little evidence on post-treatment results and none on long-term effects. [79] Local urogenital treatment provides more rapid and reliable effects in treating genitourinary atrophy and deserves study as a preoperative adjunct.

Pharmacologic therapy using estrogen derivatives results in few cures (0-14%) but may cause subjective improvement in 29-66% of women. It may be useful in postmenopausal women with atrophic vaginitis or intrinsic sphincter deficiency.

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