Urinary incontinence, the involuntary leakage of urine, can be a debilitating condition significantly impacting a person’s quality of life. While various treatment options exist, for moderate to severe stress urinary incontinence (SUI), particularly in men, the artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) has emerged as a gold-standard surgical intervention. This device offers a reliable and long-lasting solution for regaining bladder control.

Understanding Stress Urinary Incontinence

SUI occurs when pressure on the bladder, such as coughing, laughing, or exercise, overwhelms the strength of the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. This weakness can stem from various factors, including:

  • Weakened pelvic floor muscles: These muscles support the bladder and urethra. Pregnancy, childbirth, and aging can weaken these muscles, contributing to SUI.
  • Previous surgery: Prostate surgery or other pelvic procedures can sometimes damage the nerves or muscles responsible for bladder control.
  • Neurological conditions: Conditions like stroke, spinal cord injuries, or multiple sclerosis can affect the nerves that control urination.

For individuals with SUI, activities like social gatherings, exercise, or even basic movements become a constant worry due to the fear of leaks.

The Artificial Urinary Sphincter: A Technological Solution

The artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) is a small, inflatable device implanted surgically to restore continence in men with SUI. It mimics the function of a natural sphincter muscle by regulating urine flow. Here’s a breakdown of its components:

  • Cuff: A inflatable cuff made of silicone is placed around the urethra, applying gentle pressure to prevent urine leakage.
  • Reservoir: A small fluid reservoir implanted in the lower abdomen stores sterile fluid.
  • Pump: A small pump, typically placed in the scrotum, allows the user to control the cuff’s inflation and deflation.

How the AUS Works

The AUS functions through a user-controlled mechanism:

  • Continence: The cuff remains inflated by the fluid from the reservoir, preventing urine leakage when the bladder is full.
  • Voiding: To urinate, the user manually presses the pump, transferring fluid from the cuff back to the reservoir, temporarily deflating the cuff and allowing urine to flow.
  • Refilling: After urination, the cuff automatically refills with fluid from the reservoir over a few minutes, regaining its continence function.

The Surgical Procedure for AUS Implantation

Implanting an artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) is typically an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia. Here’s a general overview of the steps involved:

  • Incisions: The surgeon makes small incisions in the lower abdomen and scrotum.
  • Device Placement: The cuff is placed around the urethra, the reservoir is positioned in the lower abdomen, and the pump is embedded in the scrotum.
  • Connecting Components: The cuff, reservoir, and pump are connected with small tubes that allow fluid flow.
  • Testing and Closure: The surgeon tests the device to ensure proper function before closing the incisions.

Recovery After AUS Implantation

Following artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) implantation, patients typically stay in the hospital for a day or two for observation.

Recovery can take several weeks, with initial restrictions on strenuous activity. It’s crucial to follow the doctor’s instructions for proper wound care and device usage.

Benefits of an Artificial Urinary Sphincter

The artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) offers numerous benefits for individuals suffering from SUI:

  • Improved continence: Studies show high success rates in achieving continence, significantly improving quality of life.
  • Long-term solution: AUS devices can last for many years, with some studies reporting a lifespan of over 15 years.
  • Minimal restrictions: Once recovered, patients can resume most activities without limitations.
  • Control and independence: The user-controlled mechanism empowers individuals to manage their continence.

Who is a Candidate for an AUS?

While the artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) is a highly effective treatment, it’s not suitable for everyone. Ideal candidates typically meet the following criteria:

  • Men with moderate to severe SUI: The device is most effective for men with significant urine leakage.
  • Healthy overall health: Patients should be in good health to undergo surgery and recovery.
  • Realistic expectations: Open communication with the doctor about expectations and potential side effects is crucial.

Considerations and Potential Complications

As with any surgical procedure, AUS implantation carries some potential risks and complications:

  • Infection: As with any implant, there’s a risk of infection at the implantation site. This can be minimized with meticulous surgical technique and appropriate antibiotic prophylaxis. However, if an infection develops, it may necessitate removal of the device and treatment with antibiotics.
  • Mechanical problems: The device can malfunction over time, requiring revision surgery. The most common mechanical issues include cuff leaks, pump malfunctions, or tubing problems. These complications may necessitate a second surgery to replace or repair the affected component.
  • Erosion of the cuff into surrounding tissues: This can occur, potentially causing discomfort and requiring surgical intervention. Erosion is more likely in patients with poor tissue quality, diabetes, or a history of pelvic radiation therapy.
  • Urinary retention: In some cases, the cuff may not deflate completely, causing difficulty urinating. This can usually be managed by adjusting the pump or medication. However, in some cases, a temporary catheter may be needed to empty the bladder.
  • Device Expulsion: In rare instances, the body may reject the AUS, leading to its expulsion. This may necessitate removal of the device.
  • Sexual Dysfunction: Erectile dysfunction or decreased ejaculate volume can occur in some men after AUS implantation. The risk is relatively low, and discussing this potential side effect with your doctor beforehand is crucial.

Living with an Artificial Urinary Sphincter

Following successful artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) implantation, most individuals experience a significant improvement in their quality of life. Here’s what to expect:

  • Learning to use the pump: The doctor will provide training on using the pump to inflate and deflate the cuff effectively.
  • Long-term follow-up: Regular checkups with the doctor are essential to monitor device function and address any potential issues.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Healthy habits like weight management, pelvic floor exercises (Kegels), and avoiding smoking can contribute to long-term device success and overall bladder health.

Alternatives to Artificial Urinary Sphincters

While the artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) is a powerful tool, other treatment options exist for SUI:

  • Lifestyle modifications: Weight management, dietary changes, and bladder training exercises can sometimes improve continence.
  • Medications: Medications can help strengthen the urethra’s closure mechanism or reduce bladder contractions.
  • Slings: Surgical procedures using slings made of mesh material can provide support to the urethra and improve continence.

The Choice for Regaining Control

For men with moderate to severe SUI significantly impacting their quality of life, the artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) offers a reliable and long-lasting solution.

By restoring continence and empowering individuals to manage their bladder function, this innovative device allows them to reclaim control and participate fully in daily activities without fear of leakage.

Discussing the various treatment options with a urologist can help determine if an AUS is the right choice for achieving a life free from urinary incontinence.

The Future of Artificial Urinary Sphincters

The field of artificial urinary sphincters (AUS) is constantly evolving, with ongoing research exploring ways to improve device functionality, longevity, and user experience. Here’s a glimpse into some promising advancements:

  • Minimally Invasive Techniques: Laparoscopic or robotic-assisted surgery for AUS implantation is being investigated. This could potentially lead to shorter recovery times and less post-operative pain.
  • Improved Device Designs: Newer generations of AUS devices boast features like:
    • Adjustable Cuffs: These cuffs may allow for a more personalized fit and potentially reduce the risk of erosion.
    • Smart Pumps: These pumps could be equipped with sensors to monitor device function and alert users or healthcare providers of any potential issues.
    • Biocompatible Materials: Research into biocompatible materials that better integrate with the body could further reduce the risk of infection and rejection.
  • Remote Monitoring: Telemedicine advancements could allow for remote monitoring of AUS function, potentially reducing the need for frequent in-person checkups.


Urinary incontinence can be a significant burden, but with advancements like the artificial urinary sphincter (AUS), individuals have a powerful tool to regain control and improve their quality of life.

As research continues to refine existing technologies and explore new possibilities, the future of AUS holds promise for even more effective and patient-centered solutions for managing incontinence.

By openly discussing their concerns with a urologist, men struggling with SUI can explore treatment options, including the AUS, and find a path towards a life free from leakage and filled with confidence.

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Last Update: 15 April 2024