Electrical stimulation is used to treat
urinary incontinence by sending a mild electric
current to nerves in the lower back or the pelvic muscles that are involved in urination.
You may be able to provide electrical stimulation therapy at home using a
unit with a vaginal or anal electrode. Timing and duration of therapy varies.
For example, your treatment may consist of 12 weeks during which you have
15-minute stimulation sessions twice a day. This kind of stimulation has been used for both urge and stress incontinence.
"I'm more sensitive now to women when they say they've 'gotta go,'" says
51-year-old professional speaker, author, and prostate cancer survivor Chuck
Gallagher. The Greenville, S.C., resident experienced mild incontinence for six weeks
following his laparoscopic surgery. "Guys don't want to talk about it; it's
embarrassing. They think they have to suck it up and deal with it."
And men aren't the only ones who don't want to talk about their little leaks
or mild incontinence.
According to the...
vaginal or anal electrical stimulation works is not well understood. The stimulation may make
the muscles contract, producing an effect similar to Kegel exercises, which
strengthen the muscles by contracting them frequently. The stimulation may also
encourage the growth of nerve cells that cause the muscles to contract.
Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) has been used for severe urge incontinence or overactive bladder that hasn't been helped by other treatment. In SNS, the doctor puts an electrical stimulator under your skin above your buttocks. This stimulator looks like a pacemaker. It is attached to electrodes that send pulses to a nerve in your lower back (sacrum). The sacral nerve plays a role in bladder storage and emptying.
Vaginal or anal electrical stimulation has been tried mostly in women who have urge, stress, and mixed incontinence. There is some research that it can help reduce how often women have incontinence.1 Anal electrical stimulation has been tried in men. But there is no evidence that it works.
Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) has improved urge urinary incontinence and overactive bladder in more than half the people who try it.2
Vaginal or anal electrical stimulation can cause pain, tenderness, and bleeding.
The risks of sacral nerve stimulation include:
Pain where the device is implanted under your skin.
Movement of the implanted device from its original spot.
What To Think About
Before trying electrical stimulation for urinary incontinence, talk to your
doctor about the following:
Can your incontinence be treated with behavioral or exercise therapy before trying medicine?
Behavioral or exercise therapy, such as bladder training or pelvic floor
(Kegel) exercises, is noninvasive, can be done at home, is inexpensive, has no
side effects, and does not limit future therapy options if it is not
How much experience does your doctor have in treating incontinence? Some doctors do
not realize the impact that urinary incontinence can have on a person's life
and may disregard your concerns.
Could any medicines you are taking for another condition be causing your incontinence? Some medicines (especially
diuretics) cause the body to produce greater amounts
of urine, which may contribute to incontinence problems. Take them when you
will easily be able to get to a restroom.
Onwude JL (2009). Stress incontinence, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Vasavada SP, Rackley RR (2007). Electrical stimulation for storage and emptying disorders. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 9th ed., vol. 3, pp. 2147–2167. Philadelphia: Saunders-Elsevier.
Primary Medical Reviewer
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Avery L. Seifert, MD - Urology
September 13, 2010
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
September 13, 2010
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