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Urethral Bulking for Urinary Incontinence

Surgery Overview

Urethral bulking to treat urinary incontinence involves injecting material (such as collagen) around the urethra. This may be done to:

  • Close a hole in the urethra through which urine leaks out.
  • Build up the thickness of the wall of the urethra so it seals tightly when you hold back urine.

Most bulking materials are injected around the urethra just outside the muscle of the urethra at the bladder outlet. Injecting the bulking material may be done through the skin, through the urethra or, in women, through the vagina. Needle placement is guided by the use of a cystoscope inserted into the urethra.

Urethral bulking procedures are usually done under local anesthesia in women, but men may require a general or regional anesthesia. A local anesthetic allows the person to stand up after an injection to find out if continence has been achieved. If continence has not been restored, another injection may be done immediately.

This treatment may help, but the effect wears off over time. It is common to need more treatments.

The surgery is used mostly for women and sometimes for men.

What To Expect After Surgery

Most urethral bulking injections can be done in a doctor's office or surgery center. They rarely require a hospital stay. You may need to take it easy for a few days afterward.

Why It Is Done

Urethral bulking may be done to treat:

  • Mild stress incontinence in women.
  • Stress incontinence in women who don't want or can't have surgery.
  • Mixed (stress and urge) incontinence.
  • Mild stress incontinence in men that results from prostate surgery.

How Well It Works

Urethral bulking may work for some women. But fewer than 4 out of 10 women have long-term benefits.footnote 1

Risks

The main risks related to urethral bulking are pain at the injection site, injury to the urethra, and migration of the bulking material.

What To Think About

This surgery is used mostly for women and sometimes for men.

This treatment method avoids the risks associated with abdominal surgery.

Before having urethral bulking treatment, ask your doctor about the following:

  • How much success has the doctor had in treating incontinence with surgery? The success of surgical procedures for urinary incontinence depends on the experience and skill of the surgeon.
  • Is there anything I can do to increase the likelihood of a successful surgery? Losing weight, quitting smoking, or doing pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises before surgery may increase the likelihood of regaining continence after surgery.

References

Citations

  1. American Urological Association (2009). Guideline for the surgical management of female stress urinary incontinence: Update (2009). Available online: http://www.auanet.org/content/guidelines-and-quality-care/clinical-guidelines.cfm.

Credits

Current as of: June 29, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Avery L. Seifert MD - Urology

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