Study of the effect of straining on the bulbocavernosus muscle with evidence of a straining-bulbocavernosus reflex and its clinical significance

A Shafik, R M Mostafa, A A Shafik, O El-Sibai
International Urogynecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction 2002, 13 (5): 294-8
The bulbocavernosus muscle (BCM) surrounds the vaginal introitus and covers the vestibular bulb. Its role in erection is known. However, as it surrounds the vaginal introitus, it may also have a role in intravaginal pressure regulation and in the pathogenesis of uterovaginal prolapse. We investigated the effect of increased intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) on the BCM, aiming to assess its possible function in supporting the uterus, vagina and anorectum. The intrarectal (representative of the IAP) and intravaginal pressures were measured by manometric catheters in 19 healthy women volunteers (mean age 46.2 +/- 10.4 years). The EMG activity of the BCM and its response to straining at different pressures were recorded by a concentric needle electrode. Two types of straining were tested: sudden momentary and slow sustained. The procedure was repeated in 11 of the women after individual anesthetization of the BCM, rectum and vagina. Sudden straining (coughing) produced a significant increase in intrarectal ( P<0.0001) and intravaginal ( P<0.0001) pressure as well as BCM EMG activity. Slow straining effected a similar but lower response: the BCM responded gradually with pressure elevation, whereas the latency exhibited a gradual decrease. The BCM did not react to straining after individual anesthetization of the BCM, vagina and rectum, but did respond to saline administration. The results were reproducible. BCM contraction on straining postulates a reflex relationship, which we call the 'straining-bulbocavernosus reflex'. We hypothesized that this reflex is evoked by straining and results in BCM contraction and closure of the vaginal introitus. The vagina is believed to become a closed cavity, counteracting the increased intra-abdominal pressure and the uterine tendency to prolapse. The high pressure in the closed vaginal cavity presumably supports the rectovaginal septum against the high intrarectal pressure, and is suggested to share in the prevention of rectocele. The role of BCM in the pathogenesis of uterovaginal prolapse and rectocele needs further study.

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