Urinary incontinence - tension-free vaginal tape

Placement of tension-free vaginal tape is a procedure to help control stress incontinence, urine leakage that can happen when you laugh, cough, sneeze, lift things, or exercise. The procedure helps close your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside) and the bladder neck (the part of the bladder that connects to the urethra).

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You will have either general anesthesia or spinal anesthesia before the vaginal tape is put in place.

  • In general anesthesia, you will be asleep and feel no pain.
  • In spinal anesthesia, you will be awake but numb from the waist down, and you will not feel pain.

A catheter (tube) will be placed in your bladder to drain urine from your bladder.

A small surgical cut is made in your vagina, just below the opening that urine passes through. Two small cuts (a little more than 1/2 inch) are made in your belly just above your pubic hair line or in your groin.

A special man-made (synthetic) tape is passed through one of the cuts in your belly or groin. It is passed under your urethra, and then back up through the other cut in your belly or groin.

The doctor then adjusts the tension (tightness) of the tape so you will not leak. If you do not receive general anesthesia, you may be asked to cough.

The surgery will take about 2 hours.

Why the Procedure is Performed

Tension-free vaginal tape is placed to treat stress incontinence.

Most of the time, your doctor will have you try drugs and bladder retraining before talking about surgery with you.


Risks for any surgery are:

Risks for this surgery are:

  • Changes in the vagina (prolapsed vagina, where the vagina is not in the proper place)
  • Damage to the urethra, bladder, or vagina
  • Erosion (breaking down) of tape
  • Fistula (or connection) between the vagina and the skin
  • Irritable bladder, where you may feel the need to urinate more often
  • It may be harder to empty your bladder, or you may not be able to empty your bladder and need a catheter
  • Pubic bone pain
  • Urine leakage may get worse
  • You may have a reaction to the synthetic tape

Before the Procedure

Always tell your doctor or nurse what drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.

During the days before the surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), warfarin (Coumadin), and any other drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot.
  • Arrange for a ride home and make sure you will have enough help when you get there.

On the day of the surgery:

  • You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything for 6 to 12 hours before the procedure.
  • Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital. Usually it will be a few hours before the scheduled time of your procedure.
  • You may receive an enema.

After the Procedure

You will be taken to a recovery room. The nurses will ask you to cough and take deep breaths to help clear your lungs. You will have a catheter in your bladder. This will be removed when you are able to empty your bladder on your own.

You may go home on the same day if there are no problems.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Urinary leakage decreases for most women who have this procedure. But you may still have some leakage. This may be because other problems are causing your incontinence. Over time, some or all of the leakage may come back.

Alternative Names

TVT; Urethral suspension


Dmochowski R, Scarpero H, Starkman J. Tension free vaginal tape procedures. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007:chap 68.

Dmochowski RR, Blaivas JM, Gormley EA, et al. Female Stress Urinary Incontinence Update Panel of the American Urological Association Education and Research, Inc, Whetter LE. Update of the AUA guideline on the surgical management of female stress urinary incontinence. J Urol. 2010;183:1906-1914.

Update Date: 1/13/2012

Reviewed by: Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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