How your weight impacts your pelvic floor
Wondering why body weight is often mentioned in information around incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse? The relationship is more significant than you may think.
The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for a lot – they act as a supportive hammock underneath the bladder, bowel and pelvic organs.
Diagram of the pelvic organs – in males (left) and females (right)
When these muscles are not working well, leakage may be experienced when doing things like coughing, sneezing, lifting, laughing or exercising.
When a person has a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) of 26 or above, their pelvic floor has a consistently heavier load to support. Body fat presses down on the bladder and bowel and can result in difficulty controlling the release of urine, faeces or wind.
Women with a BMI higher than 30 also have higher intra-abdominal pressure (pressure inside the abdomen) and this may cause the pelvic floor ligaments and structure to weaken.
A 2018 review assessed the relationship between BMI and the risk of urinary incontinence in women aged between 24.5 and 53 years. The risk of developing urinary incontinence increased by a third in women with a BMI of 25-30 and nearly doubled in women with a BMI over 30.
Recommendations for prevention
The Continence Foundation of Australia recommends maintaining a body weight with a BMI of 25 or less as a preventative measure for incontinence.
Research has shown that weight loss between 5% and 10% of body weight is enough to experience significant benefits when it comes to urinary incontinence.
It is important to speak to your doctor or a qualified dietitian for more information on losing weight safely.
Daily pelvic floor muscle exercises can also help you strengthen your pelvic floor and prevent and treat incontinence.
More information is available:
- How pelvic floor muscle exercises help
- National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66.