Frequent trips to the bathroom at night cost the global economy billions of dollars

Up at night.
Up at night.
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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Broken down into economic terms, the health condition that has people getting up multiple times at night to use the bathroom is costing the globe tens of billions of dollars every year.

A new study published by the non-profit organization RAND Europe shows nocturia costs the American economy an estimated $44.4 billion. That’s a surprising figure considering estimates made about the costs of other, much more well known illnesses. For example, obesity has been estimated to cost the economy as much as $210 billion a year, heart disease and stroke $275 billion, and diabetes $90 billion.

Nocturia is a condition that impacts a person’s lower urinary tract, causing them to wake up in the night needing to urinate. It’s often caused by high fluid intake, sleep disorders, or bladder obstruction. Health officials estimate that as many as 27.5 million people in the US suffer from nocturia, including about 12.5% of the working population.

And according to the recent global economic analysis, the condition is prevalent in other areas of the world, too. In terms of gross domestic product, economic losses linked to nocturia are estimated to be about $13.7 billion in Japan, $8.4 billion in Germany, $5.9 billion in the UK, and about $3 billion in Spain and Australia.

To come to this conclusion, researchers used a macroeconomic model that simulates the current economic situation in a given nation, then predicts how economic output would change if fewer people suffered from nocturia. It’s not an exact science, by any stretch, but it does give a snapshot of how a single health issue can have a real monetary impact on society. When making such calculations, researchers and health officials consider the number of times a person might take off from work or be less productive, in general, because of a given health problem. It also takes into consideration public healthcare costs.

In this particular study, the researchers bolstered their findings with data from two workplace surveys administered by two large insurance services, Vitality UK, part of the Discovery Group, and AIA, the largest publicly-listed pan-Asian life insurance group that covers the UK, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Those surveys revealed that, on average, a person living with nocturia has 2% lower life satisfaction and 1.3% lower engagement at work compared to a person without it. That’s a similar finding to similar surveys on people suffering from hypertension, heart disease, and asthma.

The research carried out by RAND Europe, a non-partisan research group, was funded by and prepared for Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss-based firm with an annual revenue of more than $2 billion. Most people living with nocturia develop it when they’re older than 60, but it can happen at any age. It can be treated by changing certain behaviors. such as reducing intake of caffeine and alcohol, taking afternoon naps, or wearing compression stockings. There are also some pharmaceutical options for treatment—one of which, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year, is made by Ferring.