How Weight Loss Can Help Treat Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a problem for millions of Americans. While it is most common in the elderly, incontinence can occur in people of all ages. Women are twice as likely as men to experience urinary incontinence.

A restroom with many stalls and sinks

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What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is characterized by the inability to control the flow of urine. During an episode of incontinence, a small amount of urine (just a few drops) is passed, or a strong and extremely sudden urge to urinate is sensed followed by losing a large amount of urine. It is not uncommon for women to experience both symptoms.

Urinary incontinence occurs because of problems with the muscles and nerves that hold or release urine. The body stores urine in the bladder, which is a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body. During urination, muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass. Incontinence occurs if your bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine.

The severity of urinary incontinence varies greatly among people. For some, it is mildly bothersome, but for others, it can be virtually debilitating. Some people with the condition are so fearful of the embarrassment their symptoms might bring that they avoid social interaction. Some sufferers are embarrassed to seek treatment. One study showed that nearly half of incontinent women don't tell their healthcare providers about their symptoms. Nonetheless, it is important to get help. In most cases, incontinence can be treated and controlled, if not cured.

Weight Loss as a Treatment

Being overweight can increase your chances of experiencing urinary incontinence due to the extra weight in the midsection. When you carry excess weight in your belly area, the extra pounds put added pressure on your bladder. The extra pressure makes your bladder more likely to leak.

The type of incontinence that stems from increased pressure on the bladder causing you to leak urine is referred to as stress incontinence. Actions that typically prompt episodes of stress incontinence include laughing, sneezing, coughing, or kneeling.

The good news is losing weight can often reduce its severity. Several studies have shown that if you lose even a small amount of weight you may get some relief from your symptoms. Researchers have found that a weight loss of 5% to 10% may help you to control urinary incontinence.

What You Can Do

Being overweight is only one risk factor for urinary incontinence. The condition can be caused by a number of medical issues, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Constipation
  • Nerve damage
  • Urinary tract and bladder infections
  • Shingles (if it affects the sacral nerve)
  • Taking certain medications
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Surgery

Your symptoms may be caused by a number of different reasons. It is important that you discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider rather than attributing your symptoms solely to being overweight so any underlying problems are identified and/or eliminated.

Your healthcare provider may suggest you keep a bladder diary over the course of several days so you can track your symptoms. Some typical questions you may be asked to answer include:

  • What happened immediately before the episode occurred? For example, did you cough or sneeze?
  • Did you drink any beverages prior to the episode?
  • Were you sedentary or active prior to the episode? If active, what exactly were you doing?

If there are no other underlying causes, losing weight may decrease your UI episodes. Overall health benefits can begin being seen in patients who lose just 5% of their current body weight, so you may see improvement by just losing a small amount of weight. Controlling your weight in the long-term may even completely eliminate your UI symptoms. The more weight you lose from your midsection, the less pressure is on your bladder.

If weight loss doesn't help enough, there are many other options. Dietary changes, such as avoiding caffeine, can help. Women may find Kegel exercises helpful. Behavior modification, biofeedback, prescription medications, and injections may also be appropriate. In some cases, surgery is needed to properly alleviate the symptoms of stress incontinence.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Urinary incontinence.

  2. Griffiths AN, Makam A, Edwards GJ. Should we actively screen for urinary and anal incontinence in the general gynaecology outpatients setting?--A prospective observational study. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2006;26(5):442-4. doi:10.1080/01443610600747272

  3. Subak LL, Whitcomb E, Shen H, Saxton J, Vittinghoff E, Brown JS. Weight loss: a novel and effective treatment for urinary incontinence. J Urol. 2005;174(1):190-5. doi:10.1097/01.ju.0000162056.30326.83

  4. Qaseem A, Dallas P, Forciea MA, et al. Nonsurgical management of urinary incontinence in women: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(6):429-40. doi:10.7326/M13-2410

Additional Reading

By Jennifer R. Scott
Jennifer R. Scott is a weight loss writer. She designed her own successful weight loss plan, which helped her safely lose 50 pounds in about a year.