An overactive bladder, or urinary incontinence, is a medical condition in which the patient loses control of the bladder. If your bladder loses its ability to function normally, you will experience leakage accidents when performing physical activities. Even sneezing and laughing can cause urine leakage.
Although urinary incontinence or an overactive bladder isn’t life-threatening, it can badly affect your social and psychological life. There are myriad treatments for urinary incontinence, but if you are looking for a cost-effective and convenient treatment plan, electrical simulation is worth a shot. It comes with a small adapter inserted into your vagina and is used to pass the impulses to the nerves involved in bladder function.
Let’s understand electrical simulation, its process, its purpose, and how it’s used.
What Is Electrical Stimulation?
Electrical stimulation involves a current through the electrodes, which contracts your pelvic muscles. This technology strengthens your muscles, improves blood circulation, controls pain, and helps you achieve better control over your bladder. In addition, it minimizes your urge to pee immediately and reduces the number of trips to the restroom.
You can use a unit equipped with an anal or vaginal electrode to deliver a mild current to your pelvic muscles and the lower back. The timing of each session and the overall duration of this treatment varies from patient to patient. It also depends on the severity of your condition and your expectations from the procedure.
You can try electrical stimulation for urinary incontinence to give your pelvic muscles the natural exercise they need to function correctly. The method can be invasive (a surgical electrical stimulation) or non-invasive. The most suitable option depends on your age, health, and goals. Fortunately, both techniques are FDA-approved and carry minimal risks.
If you don’t have the time or energy for physical exercises and yoga to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, the electrical stimulation device is for you. It works as a pelvic muscle trainer that builds muscle strength and prevents urinary incontinence, whether it’s stress, urge, or a combination of both.
How It Works
Millions of Americans report urinary incontinence, with almost one-third of women above 60 years suffering from stress incontinence. Childbirth, surgery, and trauma to your pelvic floor muscles can weaken your bladder, making it difficult to hold the urine for a prolonged period. The weakened muscles can lead to leakage when you engage in physical activities. Pregnant women are highly likely to develop stress incontinence because of the excess pressure on the bladder.
Urge incontinence is similar, except it involves a sudden urge to urinate. The good news is your pelvic floor muscles can work again. You need to restore their strength to increase the bladder’s effectiveness and ability to hold urine. The duration of the electrical stimulation training is mainly 12-15 weeks. Most women notice results within a few weeks of practice. Each session lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the device you use. Electrical stimulation is effective for both—stress and urge incontinence.
As mentioned earlier, it mimics pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, that involve regular contractions of your pelvic muscles. The device consists of electrodes, which send the current to the nerves. These must be positioned under your skin. Let’s understand different types of electrical stimulation for an overactive bladder.
Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS)
This requires a surgical procedure in which the doctor places a stimulator in the lower back. The device interrupts the signals between your bladder and the brain, helping you control the urge to urinate frequently. Before permanently inserting this pacemaker-like device in your body, the doctor will perform a test where they implant a wire near the sacral nerve. This wire is connected to the stimulator.
Posterior Tibial Nerve Stimulation (PTNS)
In this non-invasive electrical stimulation, a healthcare specialist inserts the wire under the skin of your legs. This needle is connected to the current generator. Once activated, it will send current to the target nerves, which then pass to the lower back muscles that play a part in your bladder function. Each session may last around half an hour, and you need it daily for 2-3 months to see the results.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This is the most commonly performed and highly sought-after treatment for urinary incontinence. Of all the electrical stimulation methods mentioned above, this one is the safest and the most convenient.
The purpose of TENS is to strengthen the pelvic muscle floor. It has the same effect on your bladder as Kegel exercises. The electrodes are inserted into your vagina and buttocks for males. This is connected to the impulse generator placed outside. The device sends current to your pelvic muscles, making them contract frequently.
As mentioned above, TENS is more like a training program that works on the muscles around your bladder. It treats urinary incontinence by making the bladder strong enough to hold urine. It also reduces the risk of leakage accidents.
What are the Risks?
Any treatment for urinary incontinence (invasive or non-invasive) carries some degree of risk. For instance, TENS can cause bleeding and pain. Invasive electrical stimulation techniques, like SNS, can cause extreme discomfort and pain at the site of implantation. There’s also a risk the implanted device might move from the original spot and cause infection.
The place where the needle is inserted might get red or bruised. Electrical stimulation isn’t safe for those at risk of bleeding. People with severe nerve damage are not the right candidates for this treatment either. It’s best to discuss your condition with a urologist to figure out the most suitable and effective treatment for urinary incontinence.
Discuss the risks, benefits, duration, and other factors before getting electrical stimulation.
If none of the medical treatments has worked for you, it’s worth trying the electrical stimulation tool for an overactive bladder. It’s a home-based treatment and is available at a fraction of the cost of surgical and other invasive medical procedures. Electrical stimulation works like physical exercises that strengthen pelvic floor muscles. However, this treatment is more effective than physical exercise. If everything goes well, you will see results within 12 weeks.