How Obesity Can Affect Your Pelvic Floor

May 14, 2019 9:42:49 AM / by Metro OBGYN Team

Did you know that having a healthy weight can impact your pelvic floor function?

As obesity increases in America, researchers are now finding that pelvic floor disorders (PFD) such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse are increasing as well. 

So, how does obesity correlate to the function of the pelvic floor? Read on to learn how excess body weight can contribute to the development of pelvic floor disorders.Hand with tape measure

What is obesity?

Obesity is a medical condition where a person carries excess weight or body fat. This additional weight can affect their health and create an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic kidney disease.

Roughly, 160 million Americans are obese or overweight, and nearly 60 million are diagnosed every year. Unfortunately, that number continues to rise in youth and adults.

Factors contributing to obesity are:

  • Consuming an excess of  calories
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Medical conditions
  • Some prescription drugs
  • Genetic predisposition

A provider will usually diagnose obesity based on the factors mentioned and by examining a person's body mass index.

Body Mass Index

Determining whether a person is overweight or obese starts with identifying a person’s body mass index (BMI). BMI approximately measures the total body fat based on a person’s height and weight. The CDC has provided a simple calculator to get started. However, a medical provider will be able to produce a more detailed analysis.

BMI weight ranges include:

Underweight: BMI under 18.4
Healthy: BMI ranging from 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight: BMI ranging from 25 to 29.9
Obese: BMI over 30

While BMI can be a good starting point in diagnosing obesity, there are many exceptions to the BMI standards. For example, bodybuilders, pregnant women, and high-performance athletes often have their BMI overestimated due to their muscle mass.

Other factors like waist-to-hip size, waist-to-height ratio, and distribution of body fat play a role in determining the health of a person with increased accuracy.

How obesity is linked to PFD problems

Obesity plays a significant role in developing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Furthermore, obesity can be linked to pelvic floor disorders like urinary and fecal incontinence, overactive bladder, and pelvic organ prolapse. 

According to a study by Preeti Jain and Matthew Parsons, these six factors caused by obesity can put stress on your pelvic floor:

  1. Chronic increase in intra-abdominal pressure
  2. Damage to pelvic musculature
  3. Nerve damage and associated conduction abnormalities
  4. Obesity-related comorbidities (the presence of two chronic diseases)
  5. Diabetic neuropathy
  6. Intervertebral disc herniation

As a result of these six stressors, many obese and overweight women are diagnosed with pelvic floor disorders.

3 common PFDs in obese women

Obese women are at a higher risk of developing pelvic floor disorders, and here are some of the most common:

1. Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence is a common PFD that causes the involuntary release of urine. Obese individuals may have elevated intra-abdominal pressure which can increase the frequency of incontinence. Additionally, having intervertebral disc herniation can cause added pressure to the pelvic region which can further contribute to incontinence.

2. Overactive Bladder

Overactive Bladder (OAB) is another common PFD that creates the need to urinate more frequently and with more urgency. Symptoms of OAB are associated with the detrusor overactivity which is prevalent in obese women who have had diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage, or associated conduction abnormalities.

3. Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the pelvic organs begin to drop and press on the vagina or rectum. Obesity can contribute to the pelvic floor musculature becoming damaged or weakened, leading to an increased risk of POP.

Obesity can cause other PFD symptoms such as:

  • Urinating more than 8 times in a day
  • Painful urination
  • Constipation
  • Straining
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Pain during and after intercourse
  • Pain in the lower back and pelvic region
  • Feeling as if you’re sitting on a ball
  • Bulging in the vagina or rectal area

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, regardless of your weight, you should visit your provider for a diagnosis.

Visit a provider to improve your PFD symptoms

We know that obesity can have a negative impact on your pelvic health. However, if you are experiencing pelvic floor systems, there are many different types of treatments you can explore. Physical therapy is frequently a recommended starting point. In addition,  losing even five percent of your body weight  can provide significant benefits.

Speak with your provider about how you can make small changes to your daily routine to help you lose weight and reach your weight loss goal. Furthermore, losing weight will offer a number of physical and emotional benefits and improve your overall health and well-being.

Schedule an appointment with a provider today to discuss your options to relieve your PFD symptoms.

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Metro OBGYN Team

Written by Metro OBGYN Team

Metro OBGYN is an independently owned practice that provides compassionate, convenient care across the spectrum of women's health services.

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