Treating Urinary Incontinence: Urethral Implants

You may have trouble holding your urine. This may be due to a weak muscle around the urethra. This muscle is called the sphincter. Urethral implants are one method to help treat a weak sphincter. A bulking agent is implanted (injected) into 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. You will likely go home the same day. 

Cross section closeup of bladder and top of urethra showing sphincter. Cystoscope is in urethra with needle injecting bulking agent into sphincter. Closeup of bulking agent closing sphincter after injection.

Your experience

  • You will be given medication (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, tubelike telescope) 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.

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

When to seek medical care

Call your doctor if you experience 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)