Mindfulness + tDCS to Reduce Urgency Incontinence in Women

  • days left to enroll
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Cynthia Conklin
Updated on 30 May 2022


Urge urinary incontinence (UUI) is a common problem in older women, which vastly reduces quality of life. UUI sufferers frequently report situational triggers (e.g. approaching the front door) leading to urinary urgency and/or leakage, which can be caused by psychological conditioning. This project will test the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of brief mindfulness (MI) and non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation; tDCS) to reduce reactivity to personal urgency cues and attenuate symptoms of UUI. This is a novel step towards providing personalized efficacious non-pharmacologic treatment for UUI.


Urinary urgency incontinence (UUI) is a highly prevalent, morbid and costly (up to $83 billion/year) disorder among older women, with up to 36% of those over 65 afflicted. One commonly experienced phenomenon among those with UUI is conditioned bladder responses to external triggers, often labeled "situational incontinence." Situational incontinence is described by sufferers as urinary urgency and leakage when confronted with specific contextual triggers or cues, such as approaching the front/garage door 'latch-key incontinence', and exposure to running water such as doing dishes. Generally ascribed to 'bladder spasms' (detrusor overactivity), studies have revealed that anywhere between 42% and 80% of women with UUI experience situationally provoked urgency, with approximately 26% of those experiencing situationally triggered leakage. The researchers recent work has focused on developing methods to recreate exposure to individuals' situational urgency cues, testing the impact of "urgency" and "safe" cues on self-report urgency and actual leakage, and finally assessing the role of bladder control mechanisms in the brain in response to these personal situational cues. The researchers found that women with situational UUI experienced increased urgency and leakage when exposed to personal "urgency" versus "safe" photographic cues from their daily lives. Further, brain areas related to attentional and visuospatial processing were activated during exposure to urge, but not safe, cues. Past studies of urgency simulated by bladder filling, show that prefrontal cortex, a seat of executive control, is activated to aid in controlling bladder activation. However, the study found that the PFC was not recruited during exposure to visual cues among women with situational urgency. Thus, the researchers propose that interventions capable of enhancing PFC activation during exposure to urgency situations should enable women to gain executive control over cues and result in less cue-provoked urgency and leakage, as well as overall UUI symptomatology. Using these now well-tested methods to personalize stimuli with photographs of urgency-provoking situational cues, the goal is to test the feasibility, acceptability, and compliance of these promising methods to attenuate urgency-related reactivity and reduce UUI symptoms. These novel methods include: (1) Brief mindfulness (MI) focused on body scan and acceptance language, (2) Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to the dorsolateral PFC, and (3) a combination of MI + tDCS. Sixty women with situational UUI will be randomized into a 7-session study, with a mail-in follow up 1-week post-training. All participants will undergo 4 urgency-cue exposure training sessions during which they will engage in one of the three interventions, based on group. Changes in urgency will be assessed via pre-post training differences in: Cue-reactivity to personal urge and safe cues, reaction time to a urinary Stroop task, self-report severity of bladder problems, and UUI episodes and urgency ratings on a daily bladder diary. Attenuating reactivity to situational urgency cues will increase our ability to complement and enhance the efficacy of UUI therapy and reduce symptom burden for its many sufferers.

Condition Urinary Incontinence, Urge
Treatment Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, Mindfulness
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04652869
SponsorCynthia Conklin
Last Modified on30 May 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Female; 40+ years old
Self-report situational urgency in at least 4 of 15 common scenarios
At least 2 leaks/week
Urge Urinary Incontinence symptomatology bother score ≥4

Exclusion Criteria

Cognitive impairment (inability to complete tasks) as measured by an MoCA < 26
Urinary retention (PVR>200ml)
Interstitial cystitis
Spinal cord injury
Pelvic irradiation or other cause of pelvic nerve damage
Active urinary tract infection (UTI)
Clear my responses

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