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Treating Urinary Incontinence: Urethral Implants

Closeup cross section of bladder neck showing bulking agent holding bladder neck closed.If you have trouble holding your urine, it may be due to a weak muscle around the urethra. This muscle is called the sphincter. Urethral implants are one method to help treat stress incontinence due to a weak sphincter. A bulking agent is implanted (injected) into the walls of your urethra. This may help close the sphincter. It can help restore most or all of your control over urine flow. This procedure is often done in the hospital. There are no incisions, cuts, or stitches needed with this procedure. You will likely go home the same day. 

Your experience

  • You will be given medicine (anesthesia) to keep you from feeling pain. This may be one or more of the following:

    • Local anesthesia to numb your urethra and bladder.

    • Regional anesthesia to numb your body below the waist.

    • General anesthesia to put you into a state like deep sleep.

  • The doctor inserts a cystoscope (a thin, tube with a camera) into your urethra. This instrument lets the doctor see the inside of your urethra.

  • A needle is inserted (either through the cystoscope or along the outside of your urethra) into the sphincter area.

  • The doctor injects a bulking agent through this needle into the wall of the urethra. This makes the wall of the urethra thicker. It then closes up. This stops urine from leaking out of the bladder. When you try to urinate, the wall moves apart to allow urine to flow.

  • Urethral implants are not as successful as other surgery for stress incontinence, but work for most people. About 1 out of 3 people request a second bulking injection after the first one.

Possible complications (rare)

  • Temporary or permanent worsening of incontinence

  • Infection of the bladder or urethra

  • Pain or discomfort at the injection site

  • Inability to urinate (urinary retention)

  • Allergic reaction to bulking agent

  • Complications of anesthesia

When to seek medical care

Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms after your implant procedure:

  • Bleeding

  • Problems urinating

  • Signs of infection (fever over 100.4°F (38.0°C) chills, urinating often, very strong urge to urinate)

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