The Connection Between Obesity and Incontinence

The Connection Between Obesity and Incontinence

If you are obese, standardly classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, your chances of developing incontinence become significantly greater. Fortunately, there are methods to help. Learn how much obesity increases your chances of incontinence, why the connection exists, and how to eliminate or manage your incontinence.


How much does obesity increase my chances of developing incontinence?

No matter what your age or gender, people who are obese are more likely to develop urinary incontinence. Estimates believe 46% to 67% of obese women have incontinence. Several studies show that with each 50 unit increase in BMI, your risk of becoming incontinent increases between 20% to 70%. For example, a Tanta University study compared 100 obese women with 100 women in the healthy weight range. 

They found that 70% of the obese women showed signs of stress urinary incontinence. In comparison, only 17% of patients from the control group had stress urinary incontinence symptoms. According to a paper in Obesity Reviews, obese Australian women were twice as likely to have incontinence than women in the normal weight range. Women who were overweight, but not obese, were 35% more likely to have incontinence than people with a healthy weight. This risk increases the older you are. 


Why does obesity cause incontinence?

There are several reasons obesity raises your risk for incontinence. Extra weight around one’s middle section puts pressure and stress on your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor and urethral structures then weaken and can lead to accidental urine leaks. This weakening sometimes becomes more apparent when sneezing, coughing, or jumping. Obesity can also lead to Type 2 diabetes, which in turn causes incontinence. Type 2 diabetes damages the nerves that control your bladder. Furthermore, some medications for diabetes can cause fluid retention or a cough, both of which can worsen incontinence. Increased glucose levels from diabetes can make one feel thirstier. While it’s crucial to stay hydrated, especially if you have incontinence, excess water increases your need to urinate.


How can I manage incontinence caused by obesity?

Fortunately, if your incontinence is caused by obesity, this often goes away if you lose enough weight, or it at least lessens with weight loss. In several observational studies of severely overweight women with incontinence, it’s been shown that, following bariatric surgery, the prevalence of stress urinary incontinence significantly decreased. Losing weight without surgery works the same way and provides long-term benefits in terms of urinary incontinence. For many people, weight gain is connected to other health issues, and therefore it is challenging to lose weight. In this situation, the focus is on symptom management for incontinence. Pelvic floor exercises, commonly referred to as Kegels, can strengthen your pelvic floor and make incontinence more manageable. In terms of lifestyle, some people find bladder training useful. 

During bladder training, you slowly increase the time between your bathroom breaks. For example, if you typically go to the bathroom every 30 minutes, you stretch it to 45 minutes, then an hour, etc. Depending on the severity of your incontinence, and whether you typically make it to a bathroom in time, you may also want to consider incontinence products. Incontinence products, such as adult diapers or pads, soak up urine to protect your skin and prevent leaks from showing through your clothing.

Obesity makes it far more likely a person will experience incontinence. This is because it puts excess pressure on your pelvic floor and may cause Type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, weight loss, whether through diet and exercise or surgery, can eliminate or significantly improve incontinence. If weight loss is caused by another health issue, you can still manage incontinence symptoms through pelvic floor exercises, bladder training, and incontinence products. Make sure to find the best solution for you to manage your incontinence. 

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