Woman talking to a woman with a notepad

Vaginal tapes are permanent implants used to treat stress urinary incontinence (leakage of urine when you exercise, sneeze or strain) which may be recommended if other conservative treatments have not worked.

The majority of these synthetic tapes are made from a non-absorbable polypropylene mesh, which is usually well accepted by the body.

It requires a surgical procedure to place the tape under the urethra like a sling or hammock to support the urethra (water pipe) and keep it in the correct position. This helps to stop urine from leaking out.

The tape is inserted through an incision inside the vagina and threaded behind the urethra. The middle part of the tape supports the urethra, and the two ends are threaded through two incisions in either of the following:

  • tops of the inner thigh - this is called a transobturator tape procedure (TOT)
  • abdomen - this is called a retropubic tape procedure or tension-free vaginal tape procedure (TVT).

If you have recently had a vaginal tape inserted for stress urinary incontinence and think that there may be complications or you want to find out more about the risks involved in your treatment then you should contact your GP in the first instance for possible onward referral to the appropriate clinical specialist.

Questions to ask

In addition to the information given in any pamphlet, the following are questions you should discuss with your surgeon before you agree to proceed:

  • Why have you chosen the use of surgical tape or a traditional non-tape repair in my particular case?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • What are the chances of success with the use of tape versus use of other procedures such as traditional surgery?
  • What are the pros and cons of using tape including associated side-effects and what are the pros and cons of alternative procedures?
  • What sexual problems may be encountered with use of tape and traditional surgery and/or other procedures?
  • If tape is to be used, what experience have you had with implanting these devices?
  • What have been the outcomes from the people whom you have treated?
  • What has been your experience in dealing with any complications that might occur?
  • What if the tape does not correct my problems?
  • What other treatments are available?
  • What can I expect to feel after surgery and for how long?
  • If I have a complication related to the tape, can the tape be removed and what are the consequences associated with this?

MHRA review

In light of an increasing number of adverse events and patient concerns being reported, the MHRA launched an investigation to better understand the use of vaginal tapes/slings and meshes and the complications associated with their use.

Although MHRA have had very few reports of problems with these devices we have noted concerns about their safety that are being expressed by patients and patients’ groups. We do take the problems and issues reported very seriously and share concern for their safety, and those that have experienced unwanted complications from them.

In February 2012, the MHRA commissioned a systematic review of the available literature on the incidence of the most frequently reported adverse events associated with different meshes/tapes/slings. The results can be found on

Summaries of the safety/adverse effects of vaginal tapes/slings for stress urinary incontinence

We continue to actively investigate and gathering evidence on the safety of these vaginal mesh and tape devices to better inform patients, doctors and surgeons about the risks, benefits and uses of these devices


Reporting adverse events

The MHRA is still gathering information on the use and complications associated with these devices and would encourage reporting of adverse events to us. Reporting a safety problem with a device

Further information

NHS Choices

NHS Choices also has information on treatment for stress urinary incontinence:

Patient information leaflet

In conjunction with the MHRA, the British Association of Urological Surgeons has published a patient information leaflet, which is intended to supplement any advice patients may already have been given by their GP or other healthcare professionals.

  • British Association of Urological Surgeons - Bladder procedures (external link) (under ‘Procedures for urinary incontinence’; see ‘Sling procedure for urinary incontinence – female’). It includes information on what the procedure involves, what to expect before and after the procedure, and possible side effects.

NICE guidance

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides advice for patients contemplating this procedure:

British Society of Urogynaecology

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 

Page last modified: 28 June 2013