Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different types of incontinence slings and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your doctor will perform an incontinence sling procedure using either general anesthesia or regional anesthesia. 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain.
  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic around certain nerves to numb a large area of the body. To numb a smaller area, your doctor injects the anesthetic in the skin and tissues around the procedure area (local anesthesia). You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.  

What to expect the day of your incontinence sling procedure

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your general or regional anesthesia. Your surgeon will perform local anesthesia.
  • A tube may be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • A team member will insert a catheter into your bladder to collect urine.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of an incontinence sling procedure?

As with all surgeries, an incontinence sling procedure involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of an incontinence sling procedure

There has been some concern about the safety of synthetic slings. Synthetic slings are used in some, but not all, types of incontinence sling procedures. Ask your surgeon about the type of sling you will have and if a procedure that does not use a synthetic sling is an option for you.  

Potential complications of an incontinence sling procedure include:

  • Damage to the urethra, bladder or vagina
  • Rejection or breakdown of the synthetic material used for the sling
  • Urination problems including frequent need to urinate, difficulty emptying your bladder, and worsening of urine leakage 

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery 
  • Informing your doctor if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy
  • Notifying your doctor right away of any concerns such as bleeding, bloody urine, fever, increase in pain, problems with urination, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies