A 2009 study by the University of California, San Francisco showed that women who lost as little as eight percent of their body weight experienced an average 47% reduction in episodes of both stress incontinence and urge incontinence , with some seeing the number of incontinence episodes drop by an astounding 70%.
The study’s findings, which were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that reduction in urinary incontinence can be considered among the primary benefits of even moderate weight loss in significantly overweight women.
The study included a group of 338 overweight and obese women between 45 and 60 years of age, all of whom were experiencing at least 10 episodes of urinary incontinence per week. The participants were divided into two groups, one of which was put on an intensive six-month weight loss program that included diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification.
The other group of participants did not take part in any structured weight loss program, but were given educational classes on the importance of weight loss to incontinence management.
At the end of the six months, the participants in the weight loss group had dropped an average of eight percent of their body weight, while the control group showed an average weight loss of just over one percent.
Episodes of urinary incontinence dropped in both groups during the study period, but the difference between the groups was striking. The weight loss group reported 47% fewer episodes on average, while the control group reported 28% fewer episodes. The weight loss group showed a clinically relevant drop in the number of episodes of all types of incontinence, the researchers said, but episodes of stress incontinence showed the most dramatic reduction.
Stress incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine caused by seemingly inconsequential actions such as sneezing, coughing, or laughing, or by movement such as exercise or lifting, is one of the most common female health problems in the US.
More than 13 million women experience stress incontinence, and it is estimated that one in three women will experience it at some time. The condition is caused be weakness in the pelvic floor muscles, including the sphincter muscle that closes off the bladder. Weakness in these muscles can be caused by a number of factors, including pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, certain medical procedures (notably, hysterectomies), and some medications.