Tape procedures can be used for women with stress incontinence. Polypropylene mesh tape is inserted through an incision inside the vagina and threaded behind the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). The middle part of the tape supports the urethra, and the two ends are threaded through two incisions in either the: tops of the inner thigh – this is called a transobturator tape procedure (TOT) or the abdomen (tummy) – this is called a retropubic tape procedure or tension-free vaginal tape procedure (TVT).
By holding the urethra up in the correct position, the piece of tape can help reduce the leaking of urine associated with stress incontinence.
However, it is not uncommon for women to need to go to the toilet more frequently and urgently after this procedure, and some find they are unable to completely empty their bladder when they go to the toilet. In some cases, the tape can wear away or move over time and further surgery may be needed at a later stage to adjust it (for example, to make it looser) or to remove it.
Colposuspension involves making an incision in your lower abdomen, lifting up the neck of your bladder, and stitching it in this lifted position. This can help prevent involuntary leaks in women with stress incontinence.
Sling procedures involve making an incision in your lower abdomen and vagina so a sling can be placed around the neck of the bladder to support it and prevent accidental urine leaks. The sling can be made of: tissue taken from another part of your body (an autologous sling)
an autologous sling will be will be made using part of the layer of tissue that covers the abdominal muscles (rectus fascia). These slings are generally preferred because more is known about their long-term safety and effectiveness.
The most commonly reported problem associated with the use of slings is difficulty emptying the bladder fully when going to the toilet. A small number of women who have the procedure also find that they develop urge incontinence afterwards.
An urethral bulking agent is a substance that can be injected into the walls of the urethra in women with stress incontinence. This increases the size of the urethral walls and allows the urethra to stay closed with more force.
A number of different bulking agents are available and there is no evidence that one is more beneficial than another. This is less invasive than other surgical treatments for stress incontinence in women as it does not usually require any incisions. Instead, the substances are normally injected through a cystoscope (thin viewing tube) inserted directly into the urethra.
However, this procedure is generally less effective than the other options available. The effectiveness of the bulking agents will also reduce with time and you may need repeated injections.
Many women experience a slight burning sensation or bleeding when they pass urine for a short period after the bulking agents are injected.
Botulinum toxin A (Botox) can be injected into the sides of your bladder to treat urge incontinence and overactive bladder syndrome (OAB). This medication can sometimes help relieve these problems by relaxing your bladder. This effect can last for several months and the injections can be repeated if they help.
Although the symptoms of incontinence may improve after the injections, you may find it difficult to fully empty your bladder. If this happens, you will need to be taught how to insert a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into your urethra to drain the urine from your bladder.
The sacral nerves are located at the bottom of your back. They carry signals from your brain to some of the muscles used when you go to the toilet, such as the detrusor muscle that surrounds the bladder. If your urge incontinence is the result of your detrusor muscles contracting too often, sacral nerve stimulation – also known as sacral neuromodulation – may be recommended.
During this operation, a device is inserted near one of your sacral nerves, usually in one of your buttocks. An electrical current is sent from this device into the sacral nerve. This should improve the way signals are sent between your brain and your detrusor muscles, and so reduce your urges to urinate.
Sacral nerve stimulation can be painful and uncomfortable, but some people report a substantial improvement in their symptoms or the end of their incontinence completely.
Your posterior tibial nerve runs down your leg to your ankle. It contains nerve fibres that start from the same place as nerves that run to your bladder and pelvic floor. It is thought that stimulating the tibial nerve will affect these other nerves and help control bladder symptoms, such as the urge to pass urine.
During the procedure, a very thin needle is inserted through the skin of your ankle and a mild electric current is sent through it, causing a tingling feeling and causing your foot to move. You may need 12 sessions of stimulation, each lasting around half an hour, one week apart.
Some studies have shown that this treatment can offer relief from OAB and urge incontinence for some people, although there is not yet enough evidence to recommend tibial nerve stimulation as a routine treatment.
Tibial nerve stimulation is only recommended in a few cases where urge incontinence has not improved with medication and you don’t want to have botulinum toxin A injections or sacral nerve stimulation.
In rare cases, a procedure known as augmentation cystoplasty may be recommended to treat urge incontinence. This procedure involves making your bladder bigger by adding a piece of tissue from your intestine (part of the digestive system) into the bladder wall.
After the procedure, you may not be able to pass urine normally and you may need to use a catheter. Due to this, augmentation cystoplasty will only be considered if you are willing to use a catheter.
The difficulties passing urine can also mean that people who have augmentation cystoplasty can experience recurrent urinary tract infections.
Urinary diversion is a procedure where the ureters (the tubes that lead from your kidneys to your bladder) are redirected to the outside of your body. The urine is then collected directly without it flowing into your bladder. Urinary diversion should only be carried out if other treatments have been unsuccessful or are not suitable.
Urinary diversion can cause a number of complications, such as a bladder infection, and sometimes further surgery is needed to correct any problems that occur.