Urinary incontinence affects millions of women across the world and with each passing day science is closer to finding new ways to ease the mental and physical burden this condition causes.
If you’re not interested in medication and would prefer a more natural approach to managing and alleviating your condition, then you may want to consider weight loss. While weight loss is not a cure for incontinence, the science dictates that it can help to alleviate symptoms and is more effective when combined with other treatment methods.
This post is going to answer all your questions about stress incontinence and whether weight loss can help you to overcome its hurdles. We’ll further discuss ways you can lose weight carefully, without worsening your situation.
Stress incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine or bladder control. There are four main types of urinary incontinence namely:
A person can even have more than one type of incontinence at the time time. This is called mixed incontinence.
Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence. The involuntary loss of urine, in this case, is caused by stress or pressure on the bladder as a result of weak pelvic floor muscles. Simple activities like coughing, laughing or sneezing that use pelvic floor muscles result in leakage of urine from the bladder. Other times, leaks are caused by strenuous physical activity and are not at all caused by psychological stress.
How is stress incontinence caused?
We pointed to weak pelvic floor muscles as the reason for stress incontinence but we didn’t discuss how.
Pelvic floor muscles are responsible for holding the bladder, and other organs in place, and for controlling the opening and closing of the urinary sphincter (muscles that hold or release urine in the bladder).
It does this as the bladder is filled with urine. As the bladder expands, the urethra closes because of the pelvic floor muscles so that urine doesn’t leak out until you’re in the bathroom. When these muscles are weakened, stress or pressure on the pelvic floor causes a breach and the urine will start to leak out of the bladder unannounced.
Pelvic floor muscles weaken naturally over time and are especially weak during menopause. Pelvic floor muscles may also be weakened by childbirth, high impact activities, smoking (smoker’s cough), constipation, gynecological surgery, and of course, obesity.
Effects of stress incontinence
Stress incontinence can lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame, anxiety and depression. It can also cause skin irritation from prolonged contact with urine or the materials in incontinence pads and panties. There is also a noteworthy financial impact, in terms of buying sanitary products, replacing ruined items and treatment.
Obesity’s link to stress incontinence
Obesity was mentioned as a cause of weak pelvic floor muscles. Let us further explore this point.
Obesity is a medical condition where a person carries excess body fat that puts him/her at a higher risk for health complications. Obesity is determined by body mass index or BMI. This is a measure of a person’s body fat in relation to a standard for someone of that sex, age, and height.
Where BMI is between 25.0 and 29.9, a person is considered to be overweight. When it is between 30.0 and 39.9, a person is said to be suffering from obesity. If a person’s BMI exceeds 40, he/she is severely obese. It is worth mentioning that a healthy weight is between 18.5 and 24.9 while someone who is below 18.5 is considered underweight.
Like we said before, obesity can put someone at a higher risk of certain health complications. These include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, and weakened pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic floor weakness caused by obesity happens due to fat deposits around the abdomen that put a strain on the pelvic floor muscles. Over time, this strain causes the pelvic floor muscles, along with its nerves, to stretch, thin and weaken which leads to stress incontinence.
The effect of weight loss on women with stress incontinence
If obesity can lead to stress incontinence then it would only make sense for weight loss to lessen its effects.
So the answer to the question “Can weight loss help with stress incontinence?”, is yes.
Remember that the excess abdominal weight is what caused the pressure in the first place. When that pressure is reduced, there’ll be less strain or stress on the pelvic floor which means that there may be a decrease in leaks.
In this study , researchers compared urinary incontinence episodes of overweight and obese women over a period of 18 months. When compared to those who gained weight during the period, women who lost weight experienced a 70% decrease in the frequency of episodes at months 6, 12 and 18.
Weight loss can only decrease the severity of stress incontinence and is not a cure since the root of this issue is a weak pelvic floor. Living a life of obesity for years will weaken the pelvic floor significantly and women may find that even though they have “bounced back” or “look snatched”, the issue is still there.
A more effective approach would be to combine weight loss with pelvic floor strengthening exercises. This way, the pelvic floor will regain its strength and reverse some of the damage caused by years of strain.
Weight loss strategies to consider
Weight loss will not only benefit your pelvic floor and alleviate instances of stress incontinence but will have an impact on overall health and wellness.
You can work out an hour a day, seven days a week and not see desired results because you have a poor diet.
You are what you eat. Plain and simple.
What you put into your body has a direct impact on how much you weigh. Eating foods high in saturated fats and sugars such as processed foods in large amounts can quickly pack on the pounds and before you know it you won’t be able to wiggle into your favorite jeans anymore.
Poor diet is one of the leading causes of obesity. One can change a diet by reducing caloric intake daily or replace food options with healthier, weight-loss promoting foods.
There are many diets around that claim to shed pounds quickly so you’re not short of options. It is important to note that not all diets will work and some will do more harm than good, for instance, extremely low carb diets which can starve the body of needed nutrients and vitamins and lead to mental and physical fatigue.
Choose a diet that is within your budget and that you can work into your lifestyle easily. Don’t choose a diet that is not feasible, for example, one where ingredients for meals aren’t readily available or doesn’t suit your lifestyle.
A good place to start is a diet with ingredients you know and can pronounce i.e simple ingredients. Say no to fast food, skip anything from a can, and don’t forget your greens. Fruits and vegetables are a must as are fats, protein, and good carbs.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. So while you cook up a storm in the kitchen, you’ll need to work up a sweat in the gym!
Try to create a weekly workout schedule with a trainer who can guide you to an ideal workout for someone who is overweight or obese. A trainer will also show you the proper way to perform an exercise without putting too much burden on your pelvic floor.
If the gym is not for you, you can try alternative exercises or join a class, like swimming, cycling, yoga or spinning. If you want to work out on your own, you’re always welcomed to do some walking or jogging at your leisure. As long as you are keeping active, the weight will come off.
Don’t forget to incorporate Kegel exercises into your daily life. This will help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and help you take back control over your bladder.
Persons who are severely obese may be prescribed weight loss medication from their doctor. This is completely different from weight loss supplements that you can buy online or over the counter.
This type of medication can work in one or more of these ways. The first way is by causing feelings of fullness or making you less hungry. Another way is by making it harder for your body to absorb fat from your diet. Lastly, some medications increase the amount of fat the body burns.
This type of medication comes with its own set of risks and sideeffects. The most common effects include frequent bowel movements, bloating constipation, diarrhea nausea, insomnia, lowered blood pressure, and new or worsening depression. Weight loss medication is prescribed for short term use and isn’t usually given as a long term method for managing weight.
If you are prescribed this type of medication then your doctor has determined that the weight loss benefits far outweigh the risks based on your condition.
Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery , is not the same as liposuction (where fat is removed and the body is sculpted) which is done for cosmetic purposes.
Bariatric surgery aims to reduce weight and keep the weight off. It does so by either physically restricting the amount of food that can be held in the stomach or by shortening/bypassing the small intestine to reduce the number of calories the body can absorb (malabsorption ).
A newer approach that has been taken is implanting a device that interrupts the nerve signals between the brain and the stomach. The literature on this approach is limited and it will be some time before it is as common as the first two methods mentioned.
Weight loss can help to manage stress incontinence and protect you from other life-threatening conditions. It is important to note that become skinny will not cure you, but it will help to alleviate symptoms.
Open a dialogue with your doctor about other treatment methods you can try and be sure to check out our posts on the various treatments for urinary incontinence and different incontinence products you can try!