What is Bladder Incontinence Surgery? (with pictures)

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. Bladder incontinence surgery may be a helpful treatment for some patients. Typically, more conservative treatments should be tried first, such as physical therapy or medications. If those fail to adequately correct the problem, the patient should discuss the array of possible surgical options with a doctor.

The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.

Different types of bladder incontinence surgery are suitable for different types of urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence is a condition that causes urine leakage when pressure is applied to the bladder, such as during a sneeze or a cough. An overactive bladder, also called urge incontinence, is a condition in which the patient experiences abrupt, strong urges to urinate. A doctor will need to accurately diagnose a patient’s type of incontinence before discussing surgical options.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

There are two basic types of surgeries for stress incontinence — bladder neck suspension and sling procedures. The main goal of a suspension procedure is to support the neck of a patient’s bladder. The bladder neck is a thick muscle at the point where the urethra connects to the bladder. This surgery also provides support for the patient’s urethra, which is a tube that allows urine to travel from the bladder to outside the body.

Recovery time from bladder surgery may depend on the type of bladder surgery performed.
Recovery time from bladder surgery may depend on the type of bladder surgery performed.

During a bladder neck suspension procedure, the surgeon will make an abdominal incision. Sutures, or stitches, are used to secure the surrounding tissues of the bladder neck to the pubic bone. This provides support for the area, and may help prevent involuntary urine leakage. Typically, this procedure requires general anesthesia. Patients usually recover in about six weeks.

Urologists often suggest trying other methods for bladder control before considering surgery.
Urologists often suggest trying other methods for bladder control before considering surgery.

A sling neck procedure also helps provide support for the bladder neck and the urethra. More specifically, it helps keep the urethra closed when pressure is exerted on the bladder. There are a few possible approaches to the sling neck procedure. The basic method is to use either strips of synthetic material or the patient’s own tissues. These strips are formed into a type of sling that fits around the bladder neck and the urethra.

Urinary incontinence is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Urinary incontinence is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

For an overactive bladder, a patient may consider a bladder augmentation surgery. This complex surgery involves enlarging the size of the bladder. The surgeon will take a strip of the patient’s own tissue from the intestine or stomach, and attach it to the bladder to enlarge it. Following this bladder incontinence surgery, the patient will need to recover in the hospital until normal eating and drinking can be resumed. Patients will also typically need a few weeks of home recovery.

Specific recovery times and possible risks and complications will vary depending on the general health of the patient, and the type of bladder incontinence surgery. In general, patients should alert their doctor if they experience any vomiting, fainting, or fever. Other warning signs are shortness of breath, chest pain, and severe abdominal cramping or pain. Some possible complications of bladder incontinence surgery include infection, painful sexual intercourse, and damage to surrounding organs or nerves.

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    • A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
      A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
    • The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
      The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
    • A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
      A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
    • Recovery time from bladder surgery may depend on the type of bladder surgery performed.
      Recovery time from bladder surgery may depend on the type of bladder surgery performed.
    • Urologists often suggest trying other methods for bladder control before considering surgery.
      Urologists often suggest trying other methods for bladder control before considering surgery.
    • Urinary incontinence is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
      Urinary incontinence is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition.