Weight Loss as a Urinary Incontinence Treatment

help for urinary incontinence
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Urinary incontinence is a problem for millions of Americans. While it is most common in the elderly, incontinence can occur in people of all ages. Women are twice as likely as men to experience urinary incontinence.

What is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is characterized by the inability to control the flow of urine. During an episode of incontinence, a small amount of urine (just a few drops) is passed, or a strong and extremely sudden urge to urinate is sensed followed by losing a large amount of urine.

It is not uncommon for women to experience both symptoms.

Urinary incontinence occurs because of problems with the muscles and nerves that hold or release urine. The body stores urine in the bladder, which is a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body. During urination, muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass. Incontinence occurs if your bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine.

The severity of urinary incontinence varies greatly among people. For some, it is mildly bothersome, but for others, it can be virtually debilitating. Some people with the condition are so fearful of the embarrassment their symptoms might bring that they avoid social interaction.

Some sufferers are embarrassed to seek treatment, but it is important to get help: In most cases incontinence can be treated and controlled, if not cured.

Weight Loss as a Urinary Incontinence Treatment

Being overweight can increase your chances of experiencing urinary incontinence due to the extra weight in the midsection.

When you carry excess weight in your belly area, the extra pounds put added pressure on your bladder. The extra pressure makes your bladder more likely to leak. The type of incontinence that stems from increased pressure on the bladder causing you to leak urine is referred to as stress incontinence. Actions that typically prompt episodes of stress incontinence include laughing, sneezing, coughing or kneeling.

The good news is losing weight can often reduce its severity. Several studies have shown that if you lose even a small amount of weight you may get some relief from your symptoms. Researchers have found that a weight loss of 5% to 10% may help you to control urinary incontinence.

What You Can Do About Urinary Incontinence

Being overweight is only one risk factor for urinary incontinence. But the condition can be caused by a number of medical issues such as diabetes or shingles, taking certain medications, pregnancy and childbirth, and surgery. Your symptoms may be caused by a number of different reasons.

It is important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor rather than attributing your symptoms solely to being overweight so any underlying problems are identified and/or eliminated.

Your doctor may suggest you keep a bladder diary over the course of several days so you can track your symptoms. Some typical questions you may be asked to answer include:

  • What happened immediately before the episode occurred? For example, did you cough or sneeze?
  • Did you drink any beverages prior to the episode?
  • Were you sedentary or active prior to the episode? If active, what exactly were you doing?

If there are no other underlying causes, losing weight may decrease your UI episodes. Overall health benefits can begin being seen in patients who lose just 10 percent of their current body weight, so you may see improvement by just losing a small amount of weight. Controlling your weight in the long-term may even completely eliminate your UI symptoms. The more weight you lose from your midsection, the less pressure is on your bladder.

If weight loss doesn't help enough, there are many other options. Dietary changes, such as avoiding caffeine, can help. Women may find Kegel exercises helpful. Behavior modification, biofeedback, prescription medications, and injections may also be appropriate.

In some cases, surgery is needed to properly alleviate the symptoms of stress incontinence.


Leslee L. Subak, Holly E. Richter, Steinar Hunskaar. "Obesity and Urinary Incontinence: Epidemiology and Clinical Research Update . " Journal of Urology December 2009.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)/National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse Urinary Incontinence in Women. Oct 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2008.

Simon, Harvey MD. A.D.A.M. Illustrated Health Encyclopedia. Urinary Incontinence. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2008.

Wing RR, Creasman JM, et al. "Improving urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women through modest weight loss. . " Obstetrics and Gynecology August 2010.

Wing RR, West DS, Grady D, et al. "Effect of weight loss on urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women: results at 12 and 18 months. . " Journal of Urology September 2010.

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