Urogynecology: Evidence-Based Clinical Practice 2nd ed.

1. Taking the History

Kate H. Moore1


Department Obstetrics & Gynaecology, St George Hospital, Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia


This chapter deals first with incontinence/voiding dysfunction, then prolapse and fecal incontinence. Detailed history taking for bacterial cystitis and interstitial cystitis is included in the relevant chapters, but the basic features are given here.

This chapter deals first with incontinence/voiding dysfunction, then prolapse and fecal incontinence. Detailed history taking for bacterial cystitis and interstitial cystitis is included in the relevant chapters, but the basic features are given here.

Many urogynecology patients have multiple symptoms, for example, mixed stress and urge leak along with prolapse or postoperative voiding difficulty with recurrent cystitis and dyspareunia. It is important to untangle or dissect the different problems and then tackle them one by one (although the total picture must fit together at the end).

To help you manage the patient, ask, “What is your main problem. What bothers you the most?” Only after you have sorted this question out fully should a systematic review be undertaken. Let the patient tell you her story.

History Taking for Incontinent Women

Incontinence Symptoms

Stress Incontinence (leakage with cough, sneeze, lifting heavy objects; see Fig. 1.1a). Note that stress incontinence is a symptom. Stress incontinence is a physical sign (see Chap. 2). Urodynamic stress incontinence means that on urodynamic testing the patient leaks with a rise in intra-abdominal pressure, in the absence of a detrusor contraction (see Fig. 1.1b and Chap. 4).


Figure 1.1

(a) Stress incontinence, leakage associated with raised intra-abdominal pressure. (b) Urge incontinence, leakage associated with a detrusor contraction

Urge incontinence (leakage with the desperate desire to void) is a symptom that is difficult to elicit on physical examination (see Chap. 2).

On urodynamic testing, if the patient leaks when a detrusor contraction occurs, associated with the symptom of urgency, the condition is termed detrusor overactivity (see Chap. 4).

Many patients will have mixed stress and urge incontinence but can tell you which one bothers them the most or makes them leak the most.

Take the time to ask the patient, because this guides initial therapy and helps you to interpret urodynamic tests.

Nonincontinent Symptoms of Storage Disorders: Frequency, Urgency, and Nocturia

Frequency of micturition is defined as eight or more voids per day.

The normal adult with an average fluid intake of 1.5–2 l/day will void five to six times per day.

If a woman has increased frequency, ask whether she voids “just in case”: before going shopping and so on, because many women with stress incontinence do this to avoid having a full bladder when they lift shopping bags and the like. The difference is important.

The woman with an overactive detrusor muscle will rush to the toilet frequently because she has an urgent desire to void, caused by the bladder spasm, and she is afraid she will leak if she does not make the toilet on time. The urgent desire to void for fear of leakage is defined as “urgency.”

Nocturia is defined as the regular need to pass urine once or more per night in women aged 60 or less. One episode of nocturia is allowed per decade thereafter, for example, twice per night in the 70-year-old is not considered abnormal (as renal perfusion in the elderly improves at night when the patient lies down and blood flow to the kidneys increases).

The overactive bladder (OAB) is a clinical syndrome, not a urodynamic diagnosis. It comprises frequency, urgency, and nocturia, with or without urge incontinence (in the absence of bacterial cystitis or hematuria). It was defined by the International Continence Society in order to help general practitioners to identify patients likely to have detrusor overactivity, so that they could be treated in the general practice setting without recourse to urodynamic testing.

The Frequency–Volume Chart (FVC)

This chart (Fig. 1.2) is especially helpful in assessing whether the patient suffers from daytime frequency or nocturia and how much urine she generally can store (her functional bladder capacity). The average patient has difficulty remembering exactly how often she voids and of course has no idea of the volume she can store.


Figure 1.2

Frequency–volume chart, showing a patient with good bladder volumes, adequate fluid intake, and typical stress leak. Note the “just in case” voiding before going to work (08:30) and coming home (4:50 P.M.) on the train

Most urogynecologists send out a blank FVC to patients prior to the first visit, so she can complete it before the first visit. See Chap. 5 (Outcome Measures) for more detail. This is a crucial part of starting bladder training for patients with overactive bladder (see Chap. 7).

Other Types of Leakage

These may denote a more complex situation.

Leakage when rising from the sitting position can be due to stress incontinence (relative rise in abdominal pressure when standing) or due to urge incontinence (gravitational receptors in the wall of the bladder trigger a detrusor contraction upon standing).

“Leakage without warning” is a nonspecific but important symptom. It may indicate detrusor overactivity, when a patient reaches her threshold bladder volume triggering a detrusor contraction. It may also indicate stress incontinence that the patient cannot verbalize; for example, she leaks with the slightest movement.

Leakage when arising from bed at night to go to the toilet is also nonspecific but important. Nocturia usually is associated with an overactive bladder. However, some patients with a very weak sphincter and other causes for nocturia (such as night sweats, obstructive sleep apnea, or a snoring husband) may leak as soon as they get up to go to the toilet. Leakage during intercourse is seldom volunteered. Ask this question tactfully. Coital incontinence that occurs during penetration is most likely due to stress incontinence, whereas leakage during orgasm is more likely due to detrusor overactivity.

How Bad Is the Problem?

Some patients use only a damp panty liner once daily, but their mother was grossly incontinent in her old age, and they do not wish to become like her. Other patients use many large pads fully soaked per day but have put up with it for years owing to embarrassment. It is important to assess severity because evidence indicates that mild incontinence is more readily cured by conservative measures. Severe stress incontinence is more likely to need surgery. Severe urge incontinence is logically more likely to require anticholinergic drugs.

Many units now quantitate the severity of leakage by asking three standardized questions, which have a set range of answers, in a format defined by the World Health Organization. For illustration, see Chap. 5, but the questions are as follows:

·               How often do you leak urine? (All the time, daily, two to three times weekly, weekly, or less)

·               How much urine do you leak? (A little bit, a moderate amount, a large amount)

·               How much does it affect your daily life? (On a scale of 1–10)

We also try to find out what sort of pad the patient is using, for example, see Fig. 1.3.


Figure 1.3

Adult diapers, medium and small pad, with panty liner on far right

History Taking for Voiding Difficulty

Although difficulty in emptying the bladder as a primary complaint occurs in only about 4 % of females presenting with lower urinary tract symptoms, voiding difficulty does commonly accompany other urogynecological problems such as prolapse and can be a lifelong problem in women who have previously had continence surgery.

The classic complaints are:

·               Needing to strain to void, for example, the urine does not come away without a Valsalva strain to start the flow (this is never normal).

·               The flow is intermittent: “stop—start.”

·               The flow is prolonged (the patient takes much longer to void than her friends or others in a public bathroom at the movies).

·               Post-void dribble: The patient gets up from the toilet thinking she is empty, but urine trickles out as she walks away.

·               Need to revoid: The patient gets up from the toilet thinking she has finished but has to go back to the toilet within a few minutes.

·               Recurrent episodes of bacterial cystitis.

All such patients need free uroflowmetry with post-void residual and voiding cystometry if these are abnormal (see Chap. 4).

The underlying causes may be:

·               Prolapse with urine trapping

·               Postsurgical urethral obstruction

·               Underactive detrusor (more common in the older woman)

·               Urethral diverticulum

History Taking for Prolapse

“Something coming down in the vagina” is the classic statement. The patient may have a wide range of severity of symptoms. It is important to define how badly she is affected.

·               In mild cases, she may sometimes feel a lump the size of a small egg at the introitus when she is washing herself in the shower after standing up all day at work (not every day).

·               In more severe cases, she feels an obvious lump there every time she washes and sometimes feels that there is a lump protruding when she sits down, so that she is uncomfortable. She may find the lump uncomfortable during intercourse or too embarrassing so that she refuses to have intercourse.

·               In very severe cases, the lump is there in her underwear all the time, associated with a low backache or nagging discomfort.

·               In the worst-case scenario, the lump rubs on her underwear and causes staining either brown or red (due to dependant edema with trauma), and she may experience an unpleasant abdominal pain if there is a low-lying enterocele with traction on the nerves to the small bowel.

History Taking for Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence is really the wrong term to use. We should be asking about anal incontinence, which includes incontinence to flatus and feces. Incontinence of flatus from the anus is very socially debilitating and should not be ignored.

Flatus incontinence is defined as regular passage of noisy or foul-smelling gas which the patient is attempting to inhibit or which seeps out without any warning sensation. Even if this occurs once per month during an important business meeting, it can be disastrous.

Fecal incontinence is usually broken down into the following: only when the stool is liquid (with diarrhea). Note whether patient has inflammatory bowel disease or malabsorption symptoms; treating the underlying disease may cure the problem. Incontinence when the stool is solid usually indicates a more severe problem and can have a devastating impact on the patient’s life.

Assessing severity: Does the patient need to wear a pad for the leakage or an anal plug? Does the patient need to take constipating medicine to stop leakage of watery stool? Ask about fecal urgency, defined as unable to defer the call to stool for 15 min.

All these aspects of severity are included in the Wexner score (see Chap. 5).

Symptoms of Obstructive Defecation


Figure 1.4

The Bristol stool form scale

·               Constipation, roughly defined as straining to pass hard stool and not able to defecate daily (less than three motions per week).

·               The easiest way to ask a patient about whether their stool is hard, like “rabbit pellets,” is to show them a picture of the Bristol stool chart (Fig. 1.4) and ask them to pick out which types of stool they usually pass. Type I stool is not good, as it usually means the patient must strain to evacuate, which weakens the pelvic floor. Urogynecologists have become increasingly aware of this problem.

·               Needing to digitate the vagina in order to expel hard stool—the patient often has to put her fingers in the vagina to express the stool out manually.

·               Post-defecation soiling with need to re-evacuate—patient feels defecation is complete, stands up to leave toilet, feels stool coming onto underpants, or else feels more stool present in anal canal and has to sit down again.

Assessing Previous Surgical History in Relation to Urinary Incontinence

If patient had previous continence surgery with persistent or recurrent leakage, there is a need to find out exactly what procedure she had (get notes or write to surgeon).

·               If it was a previous anterior repair for incontinence, failure is not surprising.

If it was a previous Pfannenstiel incision, patient may not know whether this was Marshall–Marchetti procedure (failure is common) or a colposuspension (failure is less common; suspect detrusor overactivity).

·               If it was a previous “sling,” there is a need to know whether this was a true abdomino-vaginal sling—if so, whether autologous fascia (sheath or fascia lata from patient; failure uncommon) or whether synthetic mesh (may be undergoing rejection)—or whether the “sling” was a Raz, Peyeyra, or Gittes type (failure very common; see Chap. 9) or a previous midurethral sling, TVT or Monarch; failure is less likely.

If it was a previous failed continence surgery, also check whether patient had voiding difficulty:

May have been kept in hospital for catheterization longer than usual

May have been sent home with suprapubic catheter in situ

May have been trained to perform clean intermittent self-catheterization

If any of these problems occurred, one should suspect that:

Patient could have subacute retention with overflow incontinence.

Further surgery in these cases is generally more likely to provoke voiding difficulty again; in order to achieve continence, self-catheterization is more likely in such cases.

History Taking for Dyspareunia

Any patient with urogynecology problems who also has dyspareunia needs this problem treated. The common features seen in urogynecology are as follows:

·               Postoperative scarring from overtight posterior repair

·               Postoperative scarring from overtight episiotomy repair

·               Post-colposuspension changes in the shape of the anterior vaginal wall

·               Atrophic vaginal changes (dryness, pruritus, coital discomfort)

General gynecological causes for superficial and deep dyspareunia should also be considered. For example, deep dyspareunia arising from endometriosis may coexist, and laparoscopic treatment should be carried out (especially if surgery will be needed for the urogynecological complaint).

History Taking for Recurrent Bacterial Cystitis

This is covered in detail in Chap. 11, but the basics are as follows:

·               Has patient had >3 proven episodes of cystitis in the last 5 years?

·               Has patient had renal ultrasound to exclude calculi?

·               Has patient had ultrasound to measure post-void residual?

·               Has patient had cystoscopy to investigate cystitis (need to get findings)?

·               Is cystitis often postcoital?

·               Are there postmenopausal atrophic vaginitis symptoms?

·               Has there been any hematuria, either during cystitis or at other times?

History Taking for Painful Bladder Syndrome/Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

This is covered in Chap. 12, but the basics include the following:

·               The main complaint is suprapubic pain.

·                      Pain may be constant or worse with a full bladder.

·                      Pain may be relieved by voiding.

·                      Pain may wax and wane over time.

·               Relentless frequency of micturition is typical, ten to twenty times daily.

·               Severe nocturia is common but not present in all patients and can be as severe as five to ten nocturia episodes per night.

·               Bacterial cystitis should be excluded.

·                      The finding of proven recurrent bacterial cystitis generally precludes a diagnosis of IC.

History of Drug Therapy That May Facilitate Urinary Incontinence

The most common culprit is the alpha-adrenergic antagonist prazosin (Minipress), which relaxes the innervation to the bladder neck and provokes stress incontinence. Always check exactly which antihypertensive the patient is using.

The next most common problem is use of diuretic therapy to treat hypertension. Although this may be good medical practice, it can be enough to tip the balance in a patient with a weak urethral sphincter or an overactive bladder into incontinence. Ask the patient’s doctor whether another antihypertensive can be used.

A further common problem is the chronic dry cough seen with ACE inhibitors (especially Renitec, enalapril), which can provoke stress incontinence.

Many psychotropic drugs have anticholinergic effects that can precipitate chronic retention of urine with overflow incontinence. Lithium can be a common culprit: it also is associated with increased thirst so patients accommodate increasingly large bladder volumes; eventually they cannot cope. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as paroxetine that also have some alpha-adrenergic blockade effect are also recently reported to cause chronic retention in some cases, more likely if the patient is also receiving a beta-adrenergic agonist such as imipramine.

General Assessment of the Patient in Relation to Urogynecology


Figure 1.5

General factors contributing to the pathogenesis of incontinence or prolapse



If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@doctorlib.info. Thank you!