Young women can reduce their risk of becoming incontinent by keeping at a healthy weight, research suggests.
Obesity was shown in a new study review to double the risk of urinary incontinence (UI) in young and middle-aged women, compared with women of a normal weight.
UI is defined as having no control over urine loss. It is theorised that obesity and being overweight can increase UI risk because excess weight around the abdomen could put pressure on the bladder.
Previous studies have shown the risk is highlighted in older women, so University of Queensland examined 14 studies involving 47,293 women across eight countries to further understand the connection.
The team looked at those who were obese and cross referenced the results with those who had reported incontinent problems.
Overweight women were around 35% more likely to have UI, while this doubled among obese women.
Interestingly, no differences in UI risk were observed between women younger than 36 years and those aged 36-55 years. The researchers say this outcome is significant because previous studies have shown increased UI risk among older people, and now young people may too have this risk growing up.
“This result points to the importance of excess weight, above and beyond age-related risk,” they said.
However, there were limitations with the findings as only five of the studies had taken into account those who had given birth and none of them looked at different categories of obesity.
“We know that urinary incontinence can be a complex issue, especially among younger women,” said Tayla Lamerto, a PhD candidate in women’s health at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
“Understanding overweight and obesity as a determinant of urinary incontinence could play a role in the way we counsel those affected by the condition, and our findings provide a building block to further explore lifestyle interventions for preventing and managing incontinence.”
The researchers think clinical advice to obese women should include warnings over how excessive weight can weaken their pelvic floor muscles and increase pressure on the bladder, which can lead to incontinence.
The findings have been published in the Obesity Reviews journal.

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