• rat;
  • stress urinary incontinence;
  • urethra;
  • leak point pressure;
  • vagina

Objective  To determine the effect of repeated and prolonged vaginal distension on the leak-point pressure (LPP) and urethral anatomy in the female rat, as prolonged vaginal distension has been clinically correlated with signs of stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

Materials and methods  Sixty female rats were placed into one of five groups; four groups underwent one of four vaginal distension protocols using a modified 10 F Foley catheter, i.e. prolonged (1 h), brief (0.5 h), intermittent (cycling inflated/deflated for 0.5 h) or sham distension. All animals had a suprapubic bladder catheter implanted 2 days after and were assessed urodynamically 4 days after vaginal distension. The fifth group of rats acted as controls and did not undergo vaginal distension, but did have a suprapubic bladder catheter placed and urodynamics assessed. To measure LPP the rats were anaesthetized with urethane, placed supine and the bladder filled with saline (5 mL/h) while bladder pressure was measured via the bladder catheter. LPPs were measured three times in each animal by manually increasing the abdominal pressure until leakage at the urethral meatus, when the external abdominal pressure was rapidly released. Peak bladder pressure was taken as the LPP and a mean value calculated for each animal. Immediately after measuring LPP the urethra was removed and processed routinely for histology (5 µm sections, stained with haematoxylin/eosin and trichrome). The means ( sem ) were compared using a Kruskal–Wallis one-way anova on ranks, followed by a Dunn's test, with P  < 0.05 indicating a significant difference.

Results  Both LPP and the external increase in abdominal pressure were significantly lower after prolonged distension, at 31.4 (1.7) and 19.8 (1.2) cmH 2 O, than in the sham group, at 41.1 (3.2) and 32.0 (4.7) cmH 2 O, respectively. There were no significant differences in LPP or in the increase in abdominal pressure between the brief, intermittent and sham groups. Qualitative histology showed that prolonged distension resulted in extensive disruption and marked thinning of urethral skeletal muscle fibres. Brief and intermittent distension showed mild and focal disruptions, respectively.

Conclusions  As observed clinically, prolonged vaginal distension results in a lower LPP, greater anatomical injury and increased severity of SUI. These results suggest that ischaemia is important in the development of SUI after prolonged vaginal distension.