Urethral suspension is a surgery to reduce or correct stress incontinence in women. The process uses a sling device to support the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
Female Bladder and Urethra
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Stress incontinence is uncontrolled leaking of urine. Muscles in the pelvis support the bladder and urethra. When these muscles are weakend these structures can fall. This makes it difficult for the urethra to close to prevent urine leakage from the bladder when there is pressure on bladder, like coughing.
This type of stress incontinence surgery inserts a sling to support the urethra. Lifting the urethra makes it easier for the urethra to close when it should to stop urine leakage from the bladder.
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a urethral suspension, your doctor will review a list of possible complications which may include:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
A series of tests will be done to determine the cause of incontinence. Surgery is only considered after other nonsurgical treatments have been tried. The results from the tests may also be used to prepare for surgery.
Leading up to surgery:
The choice of anesthesia will depend on the doctor, your sepcific procedure, your medical history, and your preferences. You may receive one of the following:
There are a variety of sling surgeries. Surgeries can vary by the direction or attachment of the sling. The following is a general description of procedure.
Two small incisions will be made in the lower abdomen or upper thighs. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to access the inner walls. An incision will be made in the front wall of the vagina. A tunnel or path will be made from the vaginal wall to the area below the abdominal/thigh incisions. A synthetic mesh tape or sling device will be inserted through the incision in the vagina. Each end of the sling has a needle. One needle will be placed through the tunnel that was created and passed through to the abdominal/thigh incision. The steps will be repeated for the other side of the sling. This will place the sling just below behind the urethra. Some tests may be done to make sure the urethra is properly supported. This may include a cough test or a scope passed through the urethra. The tape will be adjusted if needed. Once the position is confirmed, the ends of the sling will be trimmed so that they sit just inside the incisions. All the incisions will then be closed with sutures or surgical glue. In the next few months, tissue will form around the mesh to help hold it in place.
Two common surgery options include tension-free vaginal tape (TVT) and transobturator tape (TOT). The main difference between these two surgeries is the path that the needle is moved through to place the mesh. With TVT, the needle passes near the bladder, bowel and blood vessels. With TOT, the needle does not pass as close to these structures which may decrease the risk of complications.
After surgery, you will be monitored in a recovery room. You will most likely have a catheter in place to drain your urine.
Anesthesia will block pain during the surgery. After surgery, you may experience some pain or soreness. You will be given pain medicine to relieve discomfort.
You may be able to go home the same day. If complications arise, you may need to remain hospitalized.
The medical team will monitor to make sure urine is passing as expected. Walking is generally encouraged to help promote recovery and decrease risk of certain complications.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
There will be some activity limits after the procedure. Lifting and strenuous exercise will be limited for 6 weeks.
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
If you think you are having an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Urology Care Foundation
Canadian Continence Foundation
Canadian Urological Association
Bladder and Urethral surgeries. Intermountain Healthcare website. Available at: http://intermountainhealthcare.org/ext/Dcmnt?ncid=520693119. Accessed May 27, 2015.
FAQ mid-urethral slings for stress urinary incontinence. Society of Urodynamics Female Pelvic Medicine and Urogenital Reconstruction website. Available at: http://www.sufuorg.com/docs/news/Patient-FAQs-MUS-for-posting.aspx. Accessed May 27, 2015.
Magon N, Chopra S. Transobturator tape in treatment of stress urinary incontinence: it is time for a new gold standard. N Am Med Sci. 2012 May;4(5):226-230.
Surgical management of urinary incontinence. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=33. Updated January 2011. Accessed October 28, 2014.
Surgical mesh. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm142636.htm. Updated October 6, 2014. Accessed October 28, 2014.
Surgical treatment for female stress urinary incontinence. National Association for Continence website. Available at: http://www.nafc.org/bladder-bowel-health/types-of-incontinence/stress-incontinence/surgical-treatment-for-female-stress-urinary-incontinence. Accessed October 28, 2014.
Transobturator sling for stress incontinence (Subfascial hammock). International Urogynecology Associates website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Incontinence-urinary/Pages/Treatment-surgical.aspx. Accessed May 5, 2015.
Transobturator tape placement. University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital website. Available at: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/Gyn/TOT.pdf. Published April 15, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.
Urinary incontinence—surgery and procedures. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Incontinence-urinary/Pages/Treatment-surgical.aspx. Accessed May 5, 2015.
Zugor V, et al. TVT vs. TOT: a comparison in terms of continence results, complications and quality of life after a median follow-up of 48 months. Int Urol Nephrol. 2010 Dec;42(4):915-20.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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