What is a Bladder Sling?

A cut of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.

Sneezing, coughing or laughing can be a big problem for millions of women and some men, who suffer from stress urinary incontinence (SUI), which is the unintentional leakage of urine. A bladder sling, also known as a pubovaginal sling, is used in a minimally invasive outpatient surgical procedure to prevent these embarrassing mishaps. Ribbon-like and porous in size and appearance, it is usually made from a synthetic mesh material, although it can also be constructed from human fabric. In a continuous band, the bladder support sits under the neck of the bladder or in the middle of the urethra and connects to both ends of the pelvis, such as the pubic bones or pelvic sidewalls. Support and light compression of the bladder sling can prevent unintentional muscle relaxation and thus stop leakage in most cases.

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

When the urinary system is functioning normally, the brain sends signals to contract the bladder muscles while relaxing the urinary sphincter muscles, and this allows urine to pass. For people with SUI, the sphincter muscle that surrounds the urethra is weak, so the lesser pressure forces urine to come out prematurely and often at inopportune times. The bladder sling acts as a brace, or net, for weak muscles and the urethra, a tube that runs from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Smoking cigarettes can cause stress urinary incontinence and the need for a bladder sling.

The risk of developing SUI in women increases in part due to lifestyle factors such as being overweight or smoking, but it can also increase after childbirth, hysterectomy or menopause. Sometimes the cause of SUI is unknown. The condition is less common in men, although about 5% of the male population suffer from the disorder to some degree, usually as a result of surgery to remove all or part of the prostate.

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Some people experience urinary incontinence when they experience physical stress, such as sneezing.

The bladder sling has a high success rate and has given countless men and women a renewed sense of freedom and better quality of life. The recovery period after the sling procedure can be long and arduous, so a urologist will usually only recommend the procedure for severe cases where the problem cannot be controlled by other means. As with any surgical procedure, there are always risks involved.

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