Losing Weight May Ease Incontinence

Medically Reviewed

Postmenopausal women who lose excess weight and retain muscle strength may be able to prevent or control stress urinary incontinence, says a study led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence in women. Laughing, sneezing, or coughing is enough to trigger an involuntary loss of urine.

The researchers studied 1,137 women ages 70 to 79 with an average body mass index (BMI) of 28, which is considered overweight. At the beginning of the study, 415 women reported an episode of stress or urge incontinence (a sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate) at least once a month.

Women who lowered their BMI by at least 5 percent over three years had a 50 percent less chance of stress incontinence developing or progressing than those who didn’t lose weight.

Conversely, women who lost 5 percent of their grip strength (considered an indicator of overall muscle strength) were 60 percent more likely to suffer from incontinence than women whose grip strength remained unchanged.

Losing excess weight may help improve stress incontinence by relieving added pressure to the bladder, whereas poor grip strength may indicate weak pelvic floor or bladder muscles.

However, other underlying causes, such as an infection or a nerve disorder, may be at play. If you’re experiencing any form of incontinence, talk with your doctor, who can help you find the right treatment.

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, January 2017