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Urinary incontinence may be helped by weight loss

January 29, 2009 | 12:16 pm

Urinary incontinence is a problem for millions of women, especially as they get older. Many factors contribute, including obesity.

BathroomA recent study found that weight loss may improve the symptoms of incontinence for women. Researchers randomly assigned 226 overweight or obese women to weight loss intervention that included exercise, and 112 were assigned to a control group. Women in both groups were given a booklet with information on such things as exercises for incontinence and how to control urinary urgency.

The control group participated in four monthly education programs in which they received information about weight loss, exercise and good dietary habits. The intervention group met weekly for six months in small groups and learned about nutrition, exercise and behavior modification. They were also given a standard calorie-reduction diet of 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, plus meal plans. In addition, the women were encouraged to gradually increase their exercise, such as brisk walking, until they reached 200 minutes of activity a week.

After six months, the intervention group lost an average of 8% of their body weight, compared with 1.6% for the control group. That weight loss had a positive effect on incontinence — at the six-month mark, the average decrease of total weekly incontinence episodes for the intervention group was 47.4%, compared with 28.1% in the control group. The intervention group also experienced fewer stress incontinence episodes (losing urine involuntarily due to physical activity, such as coughing, sneezing or exercise), but there was little difference between the two groups in episodes of urge incontinence (a strong, sudden urge to urinate).

Compared with the control group, women in the weight loss and exercise group said they thought of incontinence as less of a problem after six months.

The authors wrote, "Our results suggest that a decrease in urinary incontinence may be another benefit among the health improvements associated with moderate weight loss and support consideration of weight reduction as a first-line treatment for overweight and obese women with incontinence."

The study was done as a partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, UC San Francisco, Brown University and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and was published in the Jan. 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Dave Getzschman / For The Times