Obese women suffering urinary incontinence may find relief with behavioral weight-loss programs, scientists said.
"It has been well documented that behavioral weight-loss interventions decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, improve control of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve mood and quality of life," said Leslee L. Subak, MD, lead author on the study.
"Our results suggest that a decrease in urinary incontinence can now be added to the extensive list of health benefits associated with weight loss," Subak added.
Subak said that previous studies have indicated that obesity is a strong risk factor for urinary incontinence.
In the new study, the research team sought to provide evidence of the beneficial effect of a weight loss program involving diet and exercise on urinary incontinence.
They randomly assigned 338 overweight and obese women aged 42 to 64 years with at least 10 episodes of urinary incontinence per week to either an intensive 6-month weight-loss program that included group diet, exercise, and behavioral modification sessions, or to a control group who received weight loss information but no rigorous guidance.
All participants received a booklet describing current methods for improving incontinence, including exercises for pelvic floor muscles.
Study participants in the weight-loss group lost an average of 17 pounds and reduced the weekly number of incontinence episodes by almost half (47 percent).
In comparison, the control group lost an average of 3 pounds per person and had a 28 percent decrease in weekly number of incontinence episodes.
The researchers also found that weight loss was more effective for stress incontinence (involuntary urine loss with coughing, sneezing, straining, or exercise) than urge incontinence (loss of urine associated with a strong urge to void).
Among women in the weight-loss group, a higher proportion achieved a clinically relevant reduction of at least 70 percent of total stress and urge incontinence episodes per week compared to the control group.
In addition, women in the weight loss group perceived greater improvement in the frequency of their urinary incontinence, lower volume of urine lost, less of a problem with incontinence and higher satisfaction with the change in their incontinence at 6 months, compared to women in the control group.
The research team will now examine additional data to determine whether the effect of weight loss can be maintained over an 18-month period.
"Improvement in urinary incontinence may be an additional way to motivate overweight women to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as weight loss and increased physical activity, impacting public health as well as an individual's health and quality of life," Subak said.
The findings appear in the January 29, 2009 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.