New Hope for People with Urinary and Bowel Incontinence
By Roxanne Jones, Freelance writer specializing in health and medicine
If you think that incontinence is a normal part of aging and something you just have to live with, think again. Even if conservative treatment measures like medication and behavior modification haven’t worked, there’s an innovative option called sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) therapy that could be just what the doctor ordered.
SNS therapy has been available since 1999 when the FDA approved it for treating the symptoms of overactive bladder including urinary urgency (when you just can’t hold it), urinary frequency (the need to urinate at least 8 times a day), and urge incontinence (leakage when you get the urge to go). It’s also used to treat a condition called non-obstructive urinary retention, in which you can’t completely empty your bladder. And just last year, the FDA approved it for treating bowel (fecal) incontinence.
SNS involves implanting a neurotransmitter device under the skin in the upper buttock area. The device transmits mild electrical impulses through a lead wire close to the sacral nerve, a nerve in the lower back that influences the bladder, bladder and anal sphincters, pelvic floor muscles and colon. These impulses help provide better bladder and/or bowel control.
A real plus of this treatment is that it’s done in two steps. The first is a test to see if the therapy will work for you. If it’s successful, the device is then implanted and the electrode is tunneled under the skin and attached to the battery. Both procedures are minimally invasive, same-day surgery done under light sedation and local anesthesia, and the treatment is covered by Medicare.
While not a complete cure, SNS therapy has been shown to greatly reduce or eliminate bladder and bowel control problems in the majority of patients – and greatly improve their quality of life.
Bottom line: don’t assume that incontinence is an inevitable part of getting older, and don’t be embarrassed about discussing it with your doctor. Effective treatment options do exist. And you deserve the freedom and confidence to lead as active a life as possible.
NOTE: SNS therapy is provided by specialists: a urogynecologist (for women with urinary incontinence), urologist (for men with urinary incontinence), or colon and rectal surgeon (for people with bowel incontinence).