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Pelvic floor Prolapse and urinary incontinence


Prolapse surgery and urinary incontinence in gynecology.

Pelvic Floor anatomy

  • the support mechanism in the anterior, middle and posterior compartment
  • the upper vagina is horizontal and rests upon the levator plate
    Pelvic floor anatomy

    Pelvic floor anatomy

  • the anatomy of the levator ani muscles
  • the role of the muscles, innervation and of the ligaments

Pelvic floor prolapse and/or urinary incontinence is a frequent pathology occurring in over 10% of women older than 80 years. 

The causes are

  • muscle-nerve-support damage during delivery
  • damage of the support system i.e. rupture of ligaments or attachments (repair := site specific repair)
  • weakening of the support system by age or collagen decrease  e.g. by menopause or congenital collagen pathology.

Prevention of pelvic floor prolapse and/or urinary incontinence is hormone replacement therapy.

Therapy of pelvic floor prolapse and/or urinary incontinence consist of a combination of

  • muscle training
  • repairing the support system
    • by vaginal or laparoscopic surgery,
    • by site specific repair or mesh repair.


Our strategic choices for surgery

In older women with health problems

vaginal surgery should be considered since this can be done under local or epidural anesthesia i.e. traditional vaginal surgery as vaginal hysterectomy and / or vaginal wall repair and TOT for urinary incontinence

In all other women

Stress urinary incontinence without a cystocoele (bladder descent)

  • a TOT (transobturator tape) is the method of choice with excellent results in over 90%.
  • If surgery fails (10%) a laparoscopic Burch procedure is performed. (A TVT as first intervention has only historical significance. It was a major step forward 10 years ago, but TOT has the same results and less complications.)

An isolated (large) cystocoele with or without stress incontinence.

  • for a pure mid-line defect (a rare pathology) , an anterior mesh repair is preferred.
  • for a lateral defect (a paravaginal defect) without a descent of the uterus.
    • a paravaginal repair (with a laparoscopic Burch) is rarely indicated
    • either a vaginal mesh repair  or a promontofixation and subtotal hysterectomy or a vaginal hysterectomy with a risk of 30% recurrences

An isolated rectocoele - enterocoele :

  • for a low defect only we prefer a vaginal colporaphia posterior and perineal body repair since this generally is sufficient and the most easy surgery.
  • for a larger defect we prefer to start with a laparoscopy and to decide during laparoscopy about the type of surgery. ie
    • either a high McCall procedure with a levator plasty. The advantage is that no mesh is used and that this can be combined with a colporaphia posterior.
    • or a mesh repair fixed to the promontory

A Pure vaginal cuff prolapse

Most frequent are combined defects such as a uterine prolapse with cystocoele and rectocoele.

solution 1 : a vaginal hysterectomy + colporaphia anterior and posterior. This is the “classic” approach. The drawback is a relatively high recurrence rate around 20% to 30%. This is not surprising since this type of surgery can difficultly correct a paravaginal defect (which is much more frequent than a mid-line defect) whereas a levator plasty is limited to the lower part of the vagina and a suspension with uterosacral repair is more difficult.

solution 2 : a subtotal laparoscopic hysterectomy + a promontofixation . A consensus has developed that this technique does not require an associated paravaginal repair. Long term results are excellent. This has become the method of choice if the surgeon has the necessary skills. Not that many are able to perform this surgery in less than 3 hours.

solution 3 : a sequential treatment : start with a vaginal hysterectomy (+ a colporaphia anterior and posterior)knowing that there will be 20-30% recurrences and do a laparoscopic promontofixation if the prolapse recurs.

Our attitude

We personally prefer option 2 since it requires only 1 surgery.

This, however, might be a slightly biased position because our laparoscopic surgical skills. Moreover today, given the median laparoscopic surgical skills of the gynecologists, option 3 definitively will have to be applied for many years to come.

Laparoscopic surgery for Urinary incontinence and prolapse in gynecology

Para-vaginal defect and Burch

A prolapse of the bladder is in 95% caused by a detachment of the suspension from the bone. This creates a para-vaginal defect which can be corrected site specifically laparoscopically. Only few gynecologists are skilled in this intervention, which in over 90% can be replaced with a colpo-promonto-fixation.

Levator plasty - High Mc Call - Colposuspension

In order to correct an important posterior descent and or a prolapse of the vaginal cuff a posterior repair is performed. When the defect is more severe, surgical repair will be more extensive. The surgical procedure therefore will vary from a McCall only to a sacrocolposuspension.

  • a high McCall :(= shortening of uterosacral ligaments)
  • -………………..+ a levator plasty (repair of the defect between the levator ani muscle)
  • -……………………………………….+ a mesh attached to the uterosacral ligaments
  • -……………………………………….+ a mesh attached to the promontorium when uterosacral ligaments are defective.

Urinary incontinence

  • Stress incontinence : loss of drops of urine when walking, coughing, laughing. This is a mechanical problem caused by a bladder descent or insufficient support of the bladder neck. In 85% with older age
  • Urgency : coming too late  and losing of a lot of urine - an over-active bladder-  can have several causes

Predisposing factors for urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is generally associated with a pelvic floor descent of the anterior compartment, ie a descent of the anterior vaginal wall.
Predisposing factors are vaginal deliveries, or a decreased strength of the support tissue as occurs with age, especially when no hormone replacement has been taken or in association with specific congenital diseases

Exams : the diagnosis of urinary incontinence is mainly clinical

  • The clinical exam gives information of the degree of vaginal descent and of the quality of the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Urodynamic exam : the usefulness is limited except for very rare diseases of bladder neck incontinence
  • colpo-cysto-defecography : only experimental without any clinically proven usefulness. Does not change the surgical strategy.
  • ultrasound : still experimental

Treatment of urinary incontinence is surgery except for pure urgency incontinence.

Urinary incontinence without cystocoele (anterior vaginal wall prolapse): TOT is the treatment of choice because of the high success rate of over 90% and since technically a short and simple intervention. TVT is outdated as first line therapy.

Urinary incontinence with severe anterior vaginal wall descent: A vaginal mesh with a TOT seems today the best strategy preferable to a laparoscopic Burch with a paravaginal defect repair or .

Urinary incontinence with anterior vaginal wall descent and descent of the uterus.

  • A promontofixation is the method of choice.
  • A simultaneous TOT should not be performed because of the risk or over correction and urinary retention.
  • If this treatment does not correct the urinary incontinence, a TOT should be performed in a second intervention.

Complications : The major complication is a mesh erosion.

 Meshes for prolapse surgery and urinary incontinence in gynecology

What is a mesh

Pelvic floor prolapse is a mechanical problem caused by insufficiently solid support tissues or by a tear of the support tissue from its attachment to the bone. Hence it increases with age (wrinkles also are caused by a decrease in collagen quality) and after delivery.
       A tear of the attachment to the bone is logically treated by reattachment : ie a site specific repair
       A decrease in quality of the support tissue should be treated by reinforcement with a foreign substance ie a mesh

Which mesh. Pros and cons ?

Prolypropylene meshes with large holes and light weight. We do not use organic meshes since rather experimental

However meshes are not without complications. A mesh erosion occurs in 5 to 7% of vaginal meshes and can be very difficult to correct.   Other intra-abdominal complications as bowel obstructions are extremely rare
When later another is intervention is needed the presence of a mesh will make this intervention more difficult.

What to do and who should do it ?

floor surgery

The main problem is the skill of the surgeon : mesh surgery seems easy surgery but is not.


Recent concern on the use of meshes and FDA recommendations

In the October 2012 newsletter of the Australian endoscopy society recent concerns on the use of meshes are discussed together with the FDA recommendations concerning training.
The key issue however is not addressed : the main problem are the surgeons not the meshes. FDA recommends obtaining knowledge and training in vaginal and vaginal mesh surgery.
- what is missing is that unless the surgeon is equally skilled in laparoscopic surgery and promontofixation, it is unlikely that a fair balance of vaginal versus laparoscopic surgery will be offered to the patient. In addition
- what is missing is that evidence of knowledge and training is limited to presence at meetings. The skills itself are never assessed. This is another nice example that video-registration should be mandatory.


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