The Role of Race in Incontinence

Are Black and White Women’s Health Really that Different?Incontinence in different races


The Good News

Black women have less than half the chance of developing urinary incontinence as white women, according to a study from the University of Michigan Health System on about 2,000 black women and 900 white women.

The Bad News

When black women do get incontinence, the condition tends to be worse than in white women. The amount of urine black women lose during each episode of incontinence is larger, with half of them reporting that they lose urine to the point of noticeably wetting their underwear or a pad, compared to a third of white women.

Significance of Stress Incontinence & Black Women

This study confirms some common beliefs and refutes others. The medical community has long held the belief that black women don’t experience a type of urinary incontinence known as stress incontinence, in which urine is lost during activities such as exercising, coughing and laughing.  In fact, the study found black women do experience stress incontinence.

“This is a population that may have been neglected because it was believed for so long that black women did not have stress urinary incontinence,” says lead author Dee E. Fenner, M.D., Furlong Professor of Women’s Health, and director of gynecology, at the University of Michigan Health System.

The study indicates that black women experience urge incontinence twice as often as white women, which supports other research on the subject. This type of incontinence involves a strong and sudden need to urinate, followed by leakage.

In previous studies, the belief was that other medical conditions associated with urinary incontinence such as diabetes, constipation, depression, obesity & chronic lung disease differed between black and white women.  However, that is not the case. These conditions occur at similar rates between the two races.

Survey Results

  • This study found that 14.6 percent of black women and 33.1 percent of white women have urinary incontinence.
  • Black women with incontinence reported having pure stress incontinence in about 25 percent of instances, compared with 39 percent for white women.
  • Black women with incontinence reported urge incontinence in 24 percent of cases, compared with 11 percent for white women. The remaining numbers had a combination of both types.
  • Women in the study were young ranging from 35 to 64 years old, averaging 42.  70% had delivered at least one baby vaginally.  Vaginal deliveries are often associated with urinary incontinence.

What does this mean?

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms that resemble incontinence, seek treatment or speak with a medical professional. Common beliefs should not stop you from seeking further information or treatment.

Fenner, et al.  “Establishing the Prevalence of Incontinence Study: Racial Differences in Women’s Patterns of Urinary Incontinence.” The Journal of Urology, Vol. 179, 1455-1460, April 2008.