Women treated surgically for stress urinary incontinence (SUI) gained an improvement in sexual function along with symptom improvement.

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The finding comes from a secondary analysis of two randomized, controlled trials comparing Burch colposuspension, autologous fascial slings, retropubic midurethral polypropylene slings, and transobturator midurethral polypropylene slings. The analysis looked at outcomes at 24 months after surgery. Stephanie Glass Clark, MD, a resident at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, presented the results at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons.

In the secondary analysis of the Stress Incontinence Surgical Treatment Efficacy Trial (SISTEr) and the Trial of Midurethral Slings (TOMUS) trials, Dr. Clark and her fellow researchers looked at the effect of surgical failure on sexual dysfunction outcomes. Subjective failure was defined as self-reported SUI symptoms or self-reported leakage by 3-day voiding diary beyond 3 months after the surgery. Objective failure was defined as any treatment for SUI after the surgery or a positive stress test or pad test beyond 3 months after the surgery.

Participants were excluded from the two studies if they were sexually inactive in the previous 6 months at baseline, at 12 months post baseline, or at 24 months. The studies employed the short form of the Pelvic Organ Prolapse/Urinary Incontinence Sexual Questionnaire (PISQ-12), which had 12 questions with scores ranging from 0 to 4. The secondary analysis sample included 488 women from SISTEr and 436 women from TOMUS.

There were some baseline differences among groups between the two trials, including vaginal deliveries, race/ethnicity, stage of prolapse, and concomitant surgeries performed at time of the anti-incontinence procedure.

All four surgeries were associated with improvements in sexual function, with no statistically significant between-group differences. Mean PISQ-12 scores improved from a range of 31-33 to a range of 36-38 at 24 months. Although there is no published minimum important difference for PISQ-12 scores, an improvement of at least one-half of a standard deviation is generally accepted as clinically meaningful. “In this case, the standard deviation at baseline was just under 3 and so the improvement of each treatment group by more than 1.5 is a clinically meaningful improvement in their sexual function,” Dr. Clark said.

“Sexual dysfunction is a much more common problem than we previously thought, so we’ve been trying to figure out if patients with pelvic floor disorders like stress incontinence are going to have any improvement in sexual dysfunction by surgically treating their stress incontinence. Previously published data had been pretty conflicting,” Dr. Clark added in an interview.

That previous research was mostly retrospective and could have been impacted by patient selection bias. By analyzing clinical trials, the researchers hoped to test their idea that the pelvic floor symptoms themselves may be key to sexual dysfunction and that treating it surgically would improve matters.

The positive result is encouraging, but it still leaves unanswered questions about the mechanism behind the relationship. Dr. Clark wondered whether leaking urine leakage during sex might be the culprit, or whether it is fear or shame associated with the condition.

The answer may come from further analysis of women who were sexually inactive at baseline, but became sexually active over the course of the studies. “I think looking at that patient population in particular is going to be an interesting area of research. Is it that it was completely related to their pelvic floor disorder, and then we fixed it [so] they could have a more fulfilling sexual life?” speculated Dr. Clark.

The study received some funding from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Clark reported no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Clark SG et al. SGS 2019, Oral Presentation 11.