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The Connection With Obesity and Incontinence

Losing Unwanted Weight May Help You Stay Dry

It's a well-known fact that some women experience incontinence during pregnancy because of pressure placed on the bladder by a growing uterus. What some might not know, however, is that obesity can also cause incontinence in men and women because of the pressure of fatty tissue on the bladder.

After giving birth, a pregnant woman's incontinence usually goes away because there is no longer pressure on the bladder. Likewise, among the many benefits of shedding excess pounds, incontinence due to obesity can often be reduced and sometimes eliminated through even moderate weight loss.

The Backpack

While increased weight pressing on the bladder is the basic cause of incontinence in the obese, Dr. Delbert Rudy, director of the North Texas Center for Urinary Control, notes that other factors also are involved. For example, incontinence can be provoked by an already weakened sphincter muscle, which controls the opening of the bladder.

"The reason that women of any weight leak when they cough or sneeze is because the sphincter muscle becomes weak," Dr. Rudy says. "This can happen for a variety of reasons and it's the actual cause of stress incontinence. If you're overweight, it's like putting a pack on your back – there's more pressure bearing down on that weak sphincter muscle and it exacerbates the problem. So where the weakness may be controllable in a woman of normal weight, it becomes less controllable in one [who] is obese."

According to Dr. Rudy, incontinence due to obesity is only a factor when a person is overweight by 100 pounds or more, not in someone who is only 10 to 30 pounds overweight.

Age also factors into the likelihood of incontinence. A 27-year-old woman who is obese may have a healthy enough sphincter that the excess weight doesn't affect her continence. On the other hand, a 67-year-old woman may already have a weakened sphincter due to the natural aging process. In this case, obesity can increase the likeliness of incontinence.

Small Changes, Big Results

While obesity often isn't the sole cause of incontinence, it can make a mild incontinence problem worse. But there is hope: Even losing a small amount of weight can improve a person's bladder condition.

"In cases where obesity is an obvious contributing factor in incontinence, losing just 10 percent of body weight can make a big difference," says Dr. Andre Kulisz, a retired homeopath with an extensive background in non-invasive incontinence treatment. "This may not get rid of it all together, but the problem won't be as bad."

Exercising is always a good way to lose unwanted pounds. It has other health benefits, including increasing muscle mass and improving overall health and fitness. Dr. Kulisz also recommends Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) to improve incontinence.

Eating healthy is also key to weight loss success. But beware of "dieting," or simply changing your eating habits temporarily: According to Dr. Rudy, dieting is often not the answer because so many diets fail. Instead, he says permanent lifestyle changes may be more effective.

"If you're significantly obese you can't go on a diet," says Dr. Rudy. "You have to change your eating behavior. What dieters do is lose weight and put it back on ... Anything that's done needs to be done for the long term."

Remember that it takes time to see positive results, so be patient. While your incontinence condition may not improve overnight, it will improve over time as you lose weight.

Smart Strategies

Low fat or low carb? That's the question on many people's minds when they try to lose weight. And the answer is that neither are healthy choices for losing and maintaining a healthy weight over the long term, according to Barbara Moore, Ph.D., president and CEO of Shape Up America! The organization believes there are no gimmicks or quick fixes for losing weight. Shape Up America! bases its mission on the fact that if you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. Simple as that.

Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program or making any serious changes to your diet.

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