Weight Loss May Reduce Incontinence

Study Shows Losing Weight Can Help Women Who Have Urinary Incontinence

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 28, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Jan, 27, 2009 -- For obese and overweight women, losing weight can dramatically reduce episodes of incontinence, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Study participants included 338 women, all overweight or obese, who leaked urine at least 10 times in a week. The women were recruited from Birmingham, Ala., and Providence, R.I.

Participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group was put on an intensive weight loss program that included diet, exercise, and behavior modification. The other group was given educational information about weight loss, healthy eating, and physical activity, but no hands-on support.

All participants received an educational booklet about urinary incontinence, behavioral techniques, and pelvic floor muscle exercises.

At six months, the women in the intensive weight loss program lost an average 8% of their body weight (about 17 pounds) and reduced weekly urinary incontinence episodes by 47%. Women in the information-only group lost an average 1.6% of body weight (about 3 pounds) and had 28% fewer episodes.

Women in the weight loss program reported feeling that incontinence was less of a problem compared to the other group. More were moderately to very satisfied with the change in their incontinence.

Urinary incontinence affects more than 13 million women in the U.S. and accounts for an estimated $20 billion in annual health care costs, according to background information in the study.

"Studies have documented that behavioral interventions help people lose weight, which helps decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, improve control of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and enhance mood and quality of life," study researcher Leslee L. Subak, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, says in a news release. "Our results suggest that a decrease in urinary incontinence is another health benefit associated with weight loss and that weight reduction can be a first-line treatment in overweight and obese women."

Show Sources


Subak, L. The New England Journal of Medicine, January 2009; vol 360: pp 481-490.

News release, National Institutes of Health.

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