If urine sneaks out after sneezing, coughing, laughing, or exercising, you may have stress urinary incontinence, which affects one-third of women over age 45. For a longer term solution for controlling the leaks, you may want to talk to your doctor about bladder sling surgery. (If you want to impress your doctor with the formal name, call it a synthetic mid-urethral sling).
Mesh slings have absolutely revolutionized the treatment of stress urinary incontinence since they came onto the scene in 1995 in Europe. A mesh sling cures 80% of cases when used over 15 to 20 years. And 90% of women say they’re satisfied with the results of the treatment.
Known as the "gold standard" in treatment, “if I had stress incontinence, I would have no reservations about having a sling myself and would recommend the procedure to any family member or friend,” says medical advisor Dr. Jeannine Miranne. Mesh sling surgery is safe, effective, and major medical societies recommend the procedure.
What happens during mesh sling surgery?
Doctors will make a small incision in the vagina and two small skin incisions near the pubic bone or in the groin, according to the American Urogynecologic Society. Next, they will place the sling under the middle of the urethra (the tube that extends from the bladder out of the body). Think of it like a hammock that supports the urethra. Overtime, your own tissues grow into the mesh, securing it in place. The sling will remain in your body for life.
The good news about bladder sling surgery recovery is that it’s a quick, outpatient procedure. Bladder sling surgery itself takes around one hour, and you’ll be discharged to go home that day. Most women fully recover in four to six weeks, but many bounce back even faster, and there are few restrictions after bladder sling surgery. “I’ve had patients who have returned to work at a desk job in as little as two weeks,” says Dr. Miranne.
What are potential complications of bladder surgery with mesh sling?
Just like any surgery or procedure, there are risks of side effects. Keep in mind that these complications during bladder sling surgery are rare. Still, it’s important to be fully informed before you go. Here’s what to ask your doctor about:
- Bleeding: This is a risk during any surgical procedure.
- Mesh exposure: A piece of mesh can come through the vaginal tissue.
- Mesh erosion: Mesh erodes into the bladder or urethra, a rare side effect.
The most common side effect of sling surgery
After having surgery, you may notice that leaking after bladder sling surgery continues. In fact, up to half of women may notice that they can’t “pee completely.” Take a deep breath: It usually fixes itself in one to two weeks following surgery. In the meantime, you can wear panty liners for bladder leaks that are breathable, comfortable, and eco-friendly.
However, if, overtime, you notice that your bladder isn’t emptying fully, and that symptom lasts several weeks, your sling may have tightened. It’s another potential side effect, but don’t worry: it can be fixed with a 30-minute surgery to loosen or cut the sling. Ultimately, odds are you’ll be happy with the result: “Most women tell me they wish they would have gotten bladder sling surgery earlier,” says Dr. Miranne.
Written by Jessica Migala
Medically reviewed by Dr. Jeannine Miranne, OB/GYN