Specific genes increase bedwetting risk, study finds

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  • Nocturnal enuresis is bladder incontinence at night
  • The condition has long been associated with genetics
  • Now, researchers have identified the specific genes linked to the condition

Nocturnal enuresis (or night time incontinence) – commonly known as bedwetting – is a condition where a person experiences urinary incontinence while they are asleep.

The condition usually occurs after the age when people are able to control their bladder and has a number of causes such as a small bladder, stress, constipation and even a family history

Although it has long been known that nocturnal enuresis can be linked to genetics (family history), a new study shows that there are very specific genes involved with bedwetting. 

“As many as 16% of all seven-year-olds suffer from nocturnal enuresis and although many of them grow out of it, 1% to 2% of all young adults still have this problem. It is a serious condition, which can negatively affect children's self-esteem and wellbeing. For example, the children may be afraid of being bullied, and often opt out of events that involve overnight stays,” explains researcher Jane Hvarregaard Christensen.

Identifying genetic variants  

Researchers from Aarhus University collaborated with international colleagues and iPSYCH (a Danish project) in conducting a large-scale study of children and young people to establish which genetic variants are associated with nighttime incontinence.

The study involved studying the genes of 3 900 Danish children and young people who were either diagnosed with nocturnal enuresis or taking medication for the condition. 

These individuals were genetically compared to 31 000 others within the same age group who did not suffer from the condition.

No single gene responsible

First author of the study, Cecilie Siggaard Jørgensen, says they identified two locations in the genome where specific genetic variants increase the risk of bedwetting. "The potential causal genes which we point to play roles in relation to ensuring that our brain develops the ability to keep urine production down at night, that the bladder's activity is regulated and registered, and that we sleep in an appropriate way, among other things."

The study indicates that this common genetic variation accounts for up to a third of the genetic risk of bedwetting. 

The researchers also acknowledge that a person can have all the genetic variants and not suffer from the condition because there are many other factors at play that still need to be considered in future studies. 

Jane Hvarregaard Christensen emphasised: “It's clear that this is very complex and that it's not possible to talk about a single gene that causes nocturnal enuresis.”

She went on to say that genetic profiling can not yet be used to determine whether a child will have nocturnal enuresis and that further and more detailed studies need to be conducted. 

Image credit: Unsplash

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