Urinary incontinence can affect 40% to 60% of people admitted to hospital after a stroke, with 25% still having problems when discharged from hospital and 15% remaining incontinent after one year.
This is an update of a review published in 2005 and updated in 2008.
To assess the effects of interventions for treating urinary incontinence after stroke in adults at least one‐month post‐stroke.
We searched the Cochrane Incontinence and Cochrane Stroke Specialised Registers (searched 30 October 2017 and 1 November 2017 respectively), which contain trials identified from the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, MEDLINE In‐Process, MEDLINE Epub Ahead of Print, CINAHL, ClinicalTrials.gov, WHO ICTRP and handsearched journals and conference proceedings.
We included randomised or quasi‐randomised controlled trials.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently undertook data extraction, risk of bias assessment and implemented GRADE.
We included 20 trials (reporting 21 comparisons) with 1338 participants. Data for prespecified outcomes were not available except where reported below.
Intervention versus no intervention/usual care
Behavioural interventions: Low‐quality evidence suggests behavioural interventions may reduce the mean number of incontinent episodes in 24 hours (mean difference (MD) –1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) –2.74 to 0.74; 1 trial; 18 participants; P = 0.26). Further, low‐quality evidence from two trials suggests that behavioural interventions may make little or no difference to quality of life (SMD ‐0.99, 95% CI ‐2.83 to 0.86; 55 participants).
Specialised professional input interventions: One trial of moderate‐quality suggested structured assessment and management by continence nurse practitioners probably made little or no difference to the number of people continent three months after treatment (risk ratio (RR) 1.28, 95% CI 0.81 to 2.02; 121 participants; equivalent to an increase from 354 to 453 per 1000, 95% CI 287 to 715).
Complementary therapy: Five trials assessed complementary therapy using traditional acupuncture, electroacupuncture and ginger‐salt‐partitioned moxibustion plus routine acupuncture. Low‐quality evidence from five trials suggested that complementary therapy may increase the number of participants continent after treatment; participants in the treatment group were three times more likely to be continent (RR 2.82, 95% CI 1.57 to 5.07; 524 participants; equivalent to an increase from 193 to 544 per 1000, 95% CI 303 to 978). Adverse events were reported narratively in one study of electroacupuncture, reporting on bruising and postacupuncture abdominal pain in the intervention group.
Physical therapy: Two trials reporting three comparisons suggest that physical therapy using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may reduce the mean number of incontinent episodes in 24 hours (MD –4.76, 95% CI –8.10 to –1.41; 142 participants; low‐quality evidence). One trial of TENS reporting two comparisons found that the intervention probably improves overall functional ability (MD 8.97, 95% CI 1.27 to 16.68; 81 participants; moderate‐quality evidence).
Intervention versus placebo
Physical therapy: One trial of physical therapy suggests TPTNS may make little or no difference to the number of participants continent after treatment (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.19 to 3.04; 54 participants) or number of incontinent episodes (MD –1.10, 95% CI –3.99 to 1.79; 39 participants). One trial suggested improvement in the TPTNS group at 26‐weeks (OR 0.04, 95% CI 0.004 to 0.41) but there was no evidence of a difference in perceived bladder condition at six weeks (OR 2.33, 95% CI 0.63 to 8.65) or 12 weeks (OR 1.22, 95% CI 0.29 to 5.17). Data from one trial provided no evidence that TPTNS made a difference to quality of life measured with the ICIQLUTSqol (MD 3.90, 95% CI –4.25 to 12.05; 30 participants). Minor adverse events, such as minor skin irritation and ankle cramping, were reported in one study.
Pharmacotherapy interventions: There was no evidence from one study that oestrogen therapy made a difference to the mean number of incontinent episodes per week in mild incontinence (paired samples, MD –1.71, 95% CI –3.51 to 0.09) or severe incontinence (paired samples, MD –6.40, 95% CI –9.47 to –3.33). One study reported no adverse events.
Specific intervention versus another intervention
Behavioural interventions: One trial comparing a behavioural intervention (timed voiding) with a pharmacotherapy intervention (oxybutynin) contained no useable data.
Complementary therapy: One trial comparing different acupuncture needles and depth of needle insertion to assess the effect on incontinence reported that, after four courses of treatment, 78.1% participants in the elongated needle group had no incontinent episodes versus 40% in the filiform needle group (57 participants). This trial was assessed as unclear or high for all types of bias apart from incomplete outcome data.
Combined intervention versus single intervention
One trial compared a combined intervention (sensory motor biofeedback plus timed prompted voiding) against a single intervention (timed voiding). The combined intervention may make little or no difference to the number of participants continent after treatment (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.06 to 5.21; 23 participants; equivalent to a decrease from 167 to 92 per 1000, 95% CI 10 to 868) or to the number of incontinent episodes (MD 2.20, 95% CI 0.12 to 4.28; 23 participants).
Specific intervention versus attention control
Physical therapy interventions: One study found TPTNS may make little or no difference to the number of participants continent after treatment compared to an attention control group undertaking stretching exercises (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.38 to 4.72; 24 participants; equivalent to an increase from 250 to 333 per 1000, 95% CI 95 to 1000).
There is insufficient evidence to guide continence care of adults in the rehabilitative phase after stroke. As few trials tested the same intervention, conclusions are drawn from few, usually small, trials. CIs were wide, making it difficult to ascertain if there were clinically important differences. Only four trials had adequate allocation concealment and many were limited by poor reporting, making it impossible to judge the extent to which they were prone to bias. More appropriately powered, multicentre trials of interventions are required to provide robust evidence for interventions to improve urinary incontinence after stroke.
Plain language summary
Treatments for urinary incontinence after stroke in adults
We wanted to assess the effectiveness of interventions aimed at helping urinary incontinence in adults who had a stroke more than one month before.
Half of people admitted to hospital with a stroke have urinary incontinence. As well as involuntary loss of urine, symptoms of urinary incontinence include having an urgent desire to pass urine (urge incontinence) or leaking urine when laughing or sneezing (stress incontinence). These symptoms are more severe in stroke survivors than in other people with urinary incontinence. They cause embarrassment and distress and affect people’s ability to take part in rehabilitation. Urinary incontinence reduces feelings of self‐worth and depression is common. It also has a major impact on families and may affect whether patients are able to return home.
The search is current to 1 November 2017.
We identified 20 studies identifying 21 comparisons and involving 1338 people. These studies included a variety of behavioural therapies (e.g. pelvic floor muscle training), complementary therapies (e.g. manual acupuncture or electroacupuncture) and physical therapies (e.g. transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, TENS), as well as medicines (e.g. oxybutynin, oestrogen). One trial investigated the effect of assessment and treatment by a continence nurse practitioner. Control groups were generally ‘usual care’ or no treatment.
We found that behavioural interventions may reduce the mean number of incontinent episodes in 24 hours but may make little or no difference to quality of life. However, intervention from a continence nurse practitioner probably made little or no difference to the number of people continent three months after treatment. Complementary therapies such as acupuncture may increase the number of participants continent after treatment. Physical therapies, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, may reduce the average number of incontinent episodes in 24 hours and probably improves functional ability.
Quality of the evidence
The quality of the evidence was limited due to poor reporting of study details (particularly in the earlier studies) and the small number of study participants in most comparisons. More than half of the studies did not provide information on side effects.
High‐quality trials comparing different treatments to usual care or no treatment involving larger numbers of participants are needed.