Can your weight effect chances of urinary incontinence?


More and more of us are struggling with our weight these days and childbirth just seems to make the problem worse.  Newspapers and magazines tell us all the time about the health problems associated with carrying extra weight but did you realise that being over-weight also increases your chance of having urinary incontinence?

Stress incontinence linked to obesity
If you are over-weight (officially defined as having a BMI of between 25 and 29.9) then you are more likely to leak when you cough and sneeze (stress incontinence).  If you are obese (which means your BMI is more than 30) then you are more likely to have stress incontinence and also leak when you have the urge to go to the loo (overactive bladder).  Research has shown that as many as 67% of obese women leak from their bladder. Having a high BMI can also mean that you are more likely to develop a prolapse where the bowel, bladder or womb sag down into the vagina.

Where you carry your weight is also significant. If you carry a lot of weight around your tummy rather than your hips, this increases the likelihood of bladder problems.

Getting up to wee lots in the night is something else that is experienced by women who have a high BMI and this is made worse if you also smoke, are going through the menopause or don’t exercise very much.

How to work out your BMI
You can work out if you are over-weight by calculating your BMI. BMI stands for Body Mass Index and is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres, and then dividing that figure by your height again.

For example, if you weigh 65 kg and you are 1.6m tall, you would divide 65 by 1.6. You then divide that number by your height again (1.6 in this case) and that is your BMI. The BMI in this example would be 25.39 (65 ÷1.6 = 40.6 or 40.6 ÷1.6 = 25.39)

Improve your bladder problems by losing weight and exercising
Good news is that losing only 5-10% of your body weight can improve matters. If your BMI is over 40, losing 50% of your weight can improve matters significantly. Exercising regularly (and this can be gentle exercise such as walking or swimming) can also reduce the amount that you leak and how often you leak regardless of how much weight you lose. Try to avoid high impact or aerobic exercise and lots of sit ups or crunches though. Walking for at least 30 minutes five days a week is an excellent way to start. Walking a mile in 15 minutes is a good pace to aim for to lose weight and improve your bladder problem. Studies have shown that simply carrying a pedometer and monitoring how much walking you do during the day can have a really positive effect on weight loss too. This can really motivate you to exercise without really noticing it.

Be sensible about your diet can help lose weight
Being sensible about what you eat is also really important. There are lots of diets around but if you stick to the basic principle of eating sensibly and in moderation 80% of the time then the odd treat 20% of the time won’t be the end of the world. If you struggle to lose weight, exercise or control your diet then see your GP as there is a lot of help out there to help manage all of these problems. If you have a smartphone then a really useful app to help you monitor both your exercise levels and your food intake is myfitnesspal.

By Alison Bourne MA (Cantab) BSc MCSP ACPWH

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