Some research supports a link between obesity and symptoms of overactive bladder. Weight loss may help reduce symptoms, but it’s unclear how much weight loss is needed.

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a chronic condition with many causes. The primary symptoms of OAB include:

  • Urgency: a sudden, intense need to urinate immediately, which may include urge incontinence (uncontrollable leakage of urine)
  • Frequency: the need to urinate more often than what is typical for you
  • Nocturia: the need to urinate one or more times during the night

Studies suggest a link between obesity and OAB symptoms. Excess weight, especially in the abdominal area, is a risk factor for OAB. Likewise, losing weight may help reduce symptoms.

Read on to learn about the connection between obesity and OAB, other potential causes, and what you can do to manage or prevent symptoms.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. For the purposes of this article, we sometimes use “male” and “female” or “men” and “women” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth. This choice is made based on the language used by the sources we cite. Learn more about sex and gender.

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Having obesity or excess weight, especially in your abdominal region, puts pressure on your bladder. This can weaken or damage your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body.

Excess abdominal weight can also damage or weaken your pelvic floor, making OAB symptoms such as leakage more likely to occur. A weak pelvic floor also makes you prone to stress incontinence. That’s when you leak urine while sneezing, coughing, or laughing.

Several studies have confirmed a link between obesity and OAB.

A 2020 study with 206 women in their early 30s found that those with a body fat percentage over 32% were 95% more likely to experience OAB symptoms than those with a lower body fat percentage.

A 2019 study with 920 people found that obesity caused urinary incontinence in males and females. Researchers found that obesity caused OAB in females but not in males. This was true for both general obesity and central obesity (excess fat in the abdominal region).

A 2019 study with 14,135 adults found that those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 were more likely to experience nocturia, no matter their age or sex.

Losing weight through lifestyle strategies, like dieting, might relieve bladder pressure and reduce OAB symptoms. Weight loss achieved through bariatric surgery also has a highly positive effect.

A 2020 review of studies found moderate to low certainty of evidence that weight loss from lifestyle approaches, like diet and exercise, reduced OAB symptoms. Researchers found higher certainty of evidence that weight loss improved OAB symptoms due to stress incontinence.

A 2018 review suggests a link between substantial weight loss and reduced OAB symptoms. But the review’s authors note that more research is needed to know whether less dramatic weight loss can have the same effect.

There are many causes and risk factors for overactive bladder. It’s possible to have several at one time. In addition to excess weight, causes of OAB include:

If you have overweight or obesity, you may be able to prevent (or reverse) OAB by losing some weight. This can be challenging to do alone. Consider talking with a healthcare professional or nutritionist about lifestyle habits that can help you achieve your goal.

Exercise, especially cardio, may support weight loss. But also consider including pelvic floor exercises in your daily routine to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

Other tips to prevent OAB include the following:

  • Quit smoking if you do. Smoking cigarettes is a risk factor for urinary urgency and urge incontinence.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Limit or avoid foods that may irritate your bladder and make symptoms worse. You can keep a bladder diary to help you identify foods to limit or avoid.
  • Manage conditions that may worsen OAB, like diabetes. If your current treatments aren’t managing your conditions well, reach out to your doctor.

Overweight and obesity can put pressure on your bladder, causing or worsening OAB symptoms. These symptoms include urgency, frequency, and leakage.

If you have obesity or overweight, losing weight might help you reduce symptoms. Other proactive steps you can take include quitting smoking and doing pelvic floor exercises.