Feb. 26, 2005, 6:23PM
Study adds incontinence to risks of hormone pills
Older women using the drugs are more likely to develop a problem
By LINDSEY TANNER
CHICAGO - A new study adds incontinence to the list of ailments
that hormone pills had been thought to help prevent, but now appear to
worsen, at least in older women.
Estrogen pills with or without progestin increased postmenopausal
women's risk of developing incontinence, and also appeared to make it
worse in women who already had the vexing problem.
The findings came from the same landmark government study that in
the past few years linked the widely used supplements to a higher risk
of heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer and dementia.
"We were hoping to find a gleam of hope for estrogen" after all the
earlier negative findings, but the results with incontinence were
disappointing, too, said lead author Dr. Susan Hendrix, a gynecologist
at Wayne State University.
The findings, published in the Feb. 23 issue of the Journal of the
American Medical Association, come from research on 27,347 women, ages
50 to 79, participating in the Women's Health Initiative study.
Compared with women taking dummy pills,
those on estrogen pills for one year were 53 percent more likely to
develop urinary incontinence by year's end. Those on pills containing
both estrogen and progestin faced a 39 percent higher risk.
The highest risks were for stress incontinence — urine leakage
prompted by pressure on the lower abdomen from sneezing, laughing,
coughing or walking. It can result from weak pelvic muscles.
Women taking estrogen pills faced more than double the risk of
developing stress incontinence, and risks were almost as high for women
on pills containing both hormones.
Also, women who already had any incontinence faced increased risks
of it worsening after a year — a nearly 60 percent higher risk for
those on estrogen-only pills and a 20 percent higher risk for those on
Some previous studies and anecdotal
reports suggested potential benefits from hormones, and many doctors
have prescribed them for the condition.
The pills are approved for treating menopause symptoms such as
vaginal dryness, and hormones' beneficial effects on vaginal tissues
were thought to extend to the bladder.
Dr. Ginger Constantine of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, which makes the
pills used in the study, said the new results are inconclusive because
the study was designed to gauge health risks other than incontinence.
Nationwide, prescriptions for hormone supplements fell from 16
million in the first half of 2002, before the first results from the
government study were released, to about 11 million in the first half
of 2004, according to Wyeth.
About 25 percent of women who quit hormones have resumed taking
them, said the pharmaceutical company, which has begun offering a new