A range of hormones govern your menstrual cycle, and a number of ailments and conditions have been blamed on these hormones through the years. One of these conditions is leaking urine, known as urinary incontinence, which some women experience around the time of their menstrual cycles.
Urinary incontinence takes several forms. There is stress incontinence, which is when a woman leaks a bit of urine when sneezing, coughing, laughing, jumping, or engaging in other movements. There is also urge incontinence, or the sudden need or desire to urinate. Some women experience both types, which is called mixed incontinence.
Early theories on why this incontinence occurs centered on the hormones involved in menstruation. Was it estrogen? Progesterone? Something else?
Research on the link between the menstrual cycle and incontinence
In 2001, a small study of 483 women looked at the ability of the women to hold urine as they experienced their menstrual cycle. About 42 percent of the women noted that they experienced a slight loss of bladder control just before their period. About 36 percent experienced the same slight loss of control during their periods. The numbers for just after menstruation and mid-cycle were far lower.
A few years later, another study looked at a similar question around the relationship of the menstrual cycle to urinary incontinence. Researchers studied a random, age-stratified sample of women ages 20-54 having normal menstrual cycles and found no correlation between the menstrual cycle and urinary incontinence. The study did find a slight potential for an increase in urinary incontinence around the time of ovulation, which is in line with what the 2001 study found, as well.
What does cause urinary incontinence?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) patient information on urinary incontinence does not list menstruation or ovulation as a source for either urge or stress incontinence. ACOG notes that there are many reasons someone might experience urinary incontinence, including temporary factors like medications that influence bladder activity, or the use of caffeine or alcohol. Constipation can also cause women to leak urine, due to the closeness of the rectum and bladder.
Other issues that can cause urinary incontinence include neuromuscular disorders, in which there might be an issue with the function of the nerve that links the bladder and the brain; a pelvic floor disorder, caused by a weakening of the floor of the pelvis, including pelvic organ prolapse and sometimes even bowel leakage; and issues with the actual anatomical structures, including bladder stones.
If you are struggling with urinary incontinence, your doctor can help you figure out the cause. You will have your history taken and give a detailed account of your problem, current medications, and medical history. There will also be a physical exam to check the anatomical structures. Treatment will depend on what your practitioner finds and recommends.