Bedwetting? It’s in your genes

For those of you who missed out on childhood sleepovers, school-trips, and maybe just a good night’s sleep because of your shameful nightly incontinence, new research has found that bed-wetting may be genetic. So, the next time your parents complain about how often sheets had to be changed, simply inform them that they were the ones to blame. 

Bedwetting, referred to medically as “nocturnal enuresis”, is common amongst young children, however the unnecessary stigma and embarrassment surrounding this topic has caused many children to feel alone in their struggles. Pee-diatrician (sorry) Dr. Howard Bennett,  author of “Waking Up Dry: A Guide to Help Children Overcome Bedwetting”, states that around 90% of children believe that they’re the only ones who wet the bed. However, up to 7 million children experience this every night; with boys being twice as likely to wet the bed than girls. Gaining the ability to control your bladder varies from child to child, but the difference between ages at which children stopped wetting the bed was an unusual phenomenon which left many scientists perplexed…

How common is bedwetting? Graphic credit: DRI Sleeper.

One of the main culprits may be the ‘bedwetting gene’. A study conducted on 392 families with young children showed that the inheritance of this gene is dominant, observed in 43% of the families. A recessive (less influential) version of this gene was inherited by 9%. Scientists were also able to find the location of this gene on chromosomes 13, 12, and 8. Interestingly, half of all children who struggle with bedwetting have a parent who experienced a similar issue. In fact, if both parents experienced bedwetting then the child has a 75% chance of inheriting the same issue – compared to the 15% chance of bedwetting being prevalent in children with no genetic influence. Research comparing at what age the parent stopped wetting the bed also provided a relatively accurate prediction of when the child would eventually stop wetting the bed, explaining why we have never witnessed sudden rises or drops in the ages of children bedwetting above the age of six.

For many years prior to this discovery, researchers believed that bedwetting was due to external factors – which is still true to a certain extent. Many children struggle with bladder control due to a lack of motor control, or simply because they have a smaller bladder than their peers. Other developmental factors may include the inability to recognise that their bladder is full or that they are urinating. Hormonal factors, such as low antidiuretic hormones during sleep, cause the bladder to fill as quickly as it would during the day, whereas it would usually fill much slower. However, more common secondary causes of bedwetting are behavioural and psychological factors.

Ultimately, the stigma behind this very normal situation is far more harmful than the actual condition. Key treatments for children who haven’t outgrown this (children above the age of six) include motivational and behavioural therapies, which are considered highly effective. Medical intervention, through drugs such as vasopressin, is another strategy which helps with around 70% of more severe cases. Most importantly, this discovery of a genetic link has helped many parents and children feel far more reassured and less embarrassed about bedwetting. Normalisation of the stigma surrounding “embarrassing” bodily functions is one of the key goals of medical science, and fortunately this can now be achieved for the 7 million children who are currently experiencing this. 

By Tharushi Wijesiri

Header image: Unsplash