Obesity and stress urinary incontinence in women: compromised continence mechanism or excess bladder pressure during cough?

Carolyn W. Swenson*, Giselle E. Kolenic, Elisa R. Trowbridge, Mitchell B. Berger, Christina Lewicky-Gaupp, Rebecca U. Margulies, Daniel M. Morgan, Dee E. Fenner, John O. DeLancey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Introduction and hypothesis: We compared two hypotheses as to why obesity is associated with stress urinary incontinence (SUI): (1) obesity increases demand on the continence system (e.g. higher cough pressure) and (2) obesity compromises urethral function and urethrovaginal support. Methods: A secondary analysis was performed using data from a case–control study of SUI in women. Measurements of urethrovaginal support (POP-Q point Aa, urethral axis), urethral function (maximal urethral closure pressure, MUCP), and measures of continence system demand (intravesical pressures at rest and during maximal cough) were analyzed. Cases and controls were divided into three body mass index (BMI) groups: normal (18.5–24.9 kg/m2); overweight (25.0–29.9 kg/m2); and obese (≥30 kg/m2). Logistic regression models where created to investigate variables related to SUI for each BMI group. Structural equation modeling was used to test the direct and indirect relationships among BMI, SUI, maximal cough pressure, MUCP, and POP-Q point Aa. Results: The study included 108 continent controls and 103 women with SUI. MUCP was the factor most strongly associated with SUI in all BMI groups. Maximal cough pressure was significantly associated with SUI in obese women (OR 3.191, 95% CI 1.326, 7.683; p < 0.01), but not in normal weight or overweight women. Path model analysis showed a significant relationship between BMI and SUI through maximal cough pressure (indirect effect, p = 0.038), but not through MUCP (indirect effect, p = 0.243) or POP-Q point Aa (indirect effect, p = 0.410). Conclusions: Our results support the first hypothesis that obesity is associated with SUI because of increased intravesical pressure, which therefore increases demand on the continence mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1377-1385
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Urogynecology Journal
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Obesity
  • Pelvic floor disorders
  • Urinary stress incontinence
  • Urodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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