Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is the involuntary, sudden loss of urine secondary to increased intraabdominal pressure that is bothersome or affecting the patient’s quality of life. Physical activities precipitating SUI include laughing, sneezing, straining, coughing, or exercising. Patients may refer to a sudden loss of urine as "leaking," “dripping" or "flooding." The patient may initially present with urinary complaints of frequency, urgency, and dysuria.
Etiologies of stress urinary incontinence are multifactorial and include:
Stress urinary incontinence affects 15.7% of adult women; 77.5% of women report the symptoms to be bothersome and 28.8% report the symptoms to be moderate to severe.. Prevalence of stress urinary incontinence will increase with age particularly with menopause. One study found that 41% of women older than 40 years old will have urinary incontinence. Up to 77% of elderly females in nursing homes will have urinary incontinence. In one study, only 60% of women with incontinence sought treatment. In the United States, direct expenditures are approximately 13.12 billion dollars on SUI per year.
Initial evaluation of any form of incontinence should include:
A thorough history includes questions about precipitating events, fluid intake pattern, nocturia, type of protective devices used (tampons/pads/diapers), past medical/surgical history, and transient causes (UTIs, hypoestrogenism, cholinergic medications, diabetes, diuretics, psychological stress). A diary of voiding should document at least two days and include the number of accidents with the time of day, amount of fluid intake, amount voided versus leakage, and association of activity.
During the general physical examination, the examiner should note if the patient has a large panniculus, prior surgical incisions, or adequate suprapubic muscle tone. The pelvic examination should take place with a full and empty bladder, both standing and supine. The degree of uterine and bladder prolapse should be assessed with a POP-Quantification system. The presence of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) beyond the hymen (fourth degree) is consistent with complicated SUI and can either mask or reduce the severity of SUI. A positive cough stress test can be used to demonstrate stress urinary incontinence subjectively. The Q-tip test is performed to assess urethral hypermobility which is defined as a 30 degree or more displacement from the horizontal position in the supine position while bearing down.
Indications for urodynamic testing include:
Evidence indicates that urodynamic testing is not necessarily needed before surgical management because it may not affect treatment outcomes.
Referral to a urogynecologist or urologist should be considered for several reasons:
Inexperienced providers may refer the patient for medical or surgical treatment and opt to co-manage.
Treatment of stress urinary incontinence subdivides into behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical management. Regardless of whether the patient desires any of the three options, all patients should receive counseling on lifestyle modifications. Bladder irritants to avoid include caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, sodas) alcohol, citrus fruits, chocolate, tomato, spicy foods, and tobacco.
Behavioral methods include:
Pharmacological options include:
The goals of surgery for stress incontinence include reinforcing the pubourethral ligaments and the paraurethral connective tissue at the mid-urethra. Surgical treatment generally divides into abdominal procedures (open or laparoscopic), vaginal procedures, and urethral bulking agents.
An abdominal approach is indicated if there is a large uterus compressing the bladder necessitating concomitant hysterectomy, no vaginal prolapse, adnexal pathology, or failed vaginal incontinence surgery. Vaginal surgery should be considered when vaginal prolapse is present, a history of failed abdominal surgery, or the patient is high risk for abdominal surgery (multiple abdominal incisions, morbid obesity).
MPP and MMK can be considered as primary or secondary treatment and may be an adjunct with vaginal vault repair for prolapse. Urethral slings have become the most common type of surgery to correct SUI. Advantages of the TVT sling include procedure completion in as little as 30 minutes with same day discharge, no post-operative urinary catheterization, short recovery time, and minimal pain. A benefit of the TVT-retropubic compared to TVT-O is avoidance of bleeding from the medial branches of obturator vessels while TVT-O decreases the risk of bladder injury.
If significant uterine procidentia exists, a vaginal hysterectomy should be performed followed by retropubic suspension. If pelvic pressure symptoms exist with SUI, check and correct for cystocele, enterocele or rectocele with an anterior repair, enterocele repair or posterior colpoperineoplasty, respectively.
Urethral bulking is the injection of synthetic materials (i.e., collagen) into the urethral mucosal layer to provide support and tighten the bladder neck’s opening. This procedure is done in an office setting with local anesthesia. Two to three injections may be required to improve symptoms.
There is no single surgical procedure for the treatment of all patients with SUI. The surgery must be tailored for the patient, not the reverse. Prophylactic incontinence procedure should be considered for patients with prolapse without SUI since post-operative voiding dysfunction may occur with an anterior colporrhaphy.
There are three other types of incontinence to consider along with SUI:
A thorough history and physical is the most crucial step to differentiate the type of incontinence and to exclude other differentials. If the diagnosis is unclear or complicated, urodynamic testing can be the next step.
Stress urinary incontinence can exert a significant impact on a patient’s life. Treatment aims at improving the quality of life. Complete resolution of SUI may not be feasible, and a combination of behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical treatment may be necessary. Some patients may be satisfied with improved SUI without complete resolution especially if it avoids surgery. Cure rates with pelvic floor muscle exercises have been reported to be 58.8% at 12 months. Pessaries may improve symptoms in 33% of patients. There is no evidence that estrogen is efficacious in the treatment of SUI but may help increase blood flow to paraurethral receptors and thicken an atrophic vagina if planning vaginal surgery. Symptom control with anticholinergics has been reported to be 49%. Overall, surgical treatment has a cure rate of 84% (source: urinary incontinence). One randomized trial found no difference in success rates between the Burch colposuspension and the retro public mid-urethral sling at 6 months and 5 years. Five-year follow-up studies of the TVT have found cure rates of 57.4-83%, improvement rates of 7.6% to 17%, and failure rates of 9.1 to 25.6%. One study found results between the MPP and MMK comparable with 84% of MPP patients cured compared to 86.6% of MMK patients. In that same study, 9.8% of MPP patients improved compared to 6.6% of MMK, and 6.2% of MPP patients failed compared to 6.8% of MMK patients. Urethral bulking injections have reported cure rates between 24.8% to 36.9% at 12-month follow-up.
The most frequently encountered side effects of anticholinergics are dry mouth and constipation. Anticholinergics can also aggravate existing cardiac arrhythmias and worsen narrow-angle glaucoma.
Patients should receive education on all forms of management including conservative and surgical management and the prognosis utilizing evidence-based medicine. Resources for patients include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Urogynecologic Society, and Advancing Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. Patients may also benefit from self-help groups and anti-incontinence organizations. Incontinences support groups can be found at nafc.org and incontinentsupport.org.
Patients should have screening during their annual examinations for signs or symptoms of incontinence. A thorough history and physical is the first step in the diagnosis. Evidence-based conservative behavioral modifications should always be attempted first, regardless if pharmacological or surgical management is a consideration. The patient may be satisfied with improved stress urinary incontinence if it avoids surgery, particularly in high-risk patients. Patients should understand that their symptoms of SUI have the highest cure rate with surgery but can improve with only behavioral or pharmacologic treatment. an interprofessional team approach is necessary with urogynecologists, pharmacists, urologists, nurses, and general gynecologists to coordinate the education of the patient and meet patient expectations to improve outcomes. [Level V]
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