Sacral nerve treatment
Nerve stimulation by a treatment called sacral neuromodulation can help some people control their bowel and bladder problems.
What is sacral neuromodulation?
One way the brain controls our body's muscles and movements is through electrical messages. These electrical impulses are carried by nerves. The nerves have major routes with smaller pathways running off them.
One major route runs from the brain, along the spinal cord and through the lower back called the sacral area. Here, nerve paths split off and go in different directions, some to the pelvic area.
The muscles in the pelvic area, such as the pelvic floor, urethral sphincters, bladder and anal sphincter muscles are controlled by the brain through nerves that run from the sacral area.
Other sensations, such as fullness in the bladder or rectum, are also relayed to the brain via these nerve routes.
Sacral neuromodulation helps to correct inappropriate, unwanted or even erroneous messages sent along these nerve pathways.
What does sacral neuromodulation treat?
It is used for urinary incontinence, such as overactive bladder. Sacral Neuromodulation may alleviate leaking and urgency-frequency (urgently needing to go to the toilet, and going a lot), or both in combination.
It may also alleviate symptoms of retention that are not caused by an obstruction. And, in some cases, it can alleviate symptoms of interstitial cystitis.
It can also be used to treat some people’s bowel incontinence and chronic constipation.
It's a therapy that's used when conservative options haven’t worked or are too difficult to live with. It is not for people with muscle damage. Only a doctor can assess its suitability.
For some people it can significantly alleviate symptoms. For instance, it relieves leakage by helping muscles keep the urethra (or anus) closed.
How does Sacral Neuromodulation work?
A small device is surgically implanted in the buttocks. It's about the size of a stopwatch.
This device stimulates the appropriate nerves by using mild or moderate electrical impulses.
By doing this, it can help restore coordination between brain, pelvic floor, bladder, bowel and sphincter muscles.
How do you know it will it work for you?
Sacral neuromodulation is performed in stages, the first is a testing phase and the next is the implant phase.
First, you'll spend a few weeks recording your toilet habits in a diary form to use as a base for future comparison.
The specialist will put the lead into your lower back at the sacral region. An external pulse generator will be attached to the lead (from outside your body). It will be turned on.
You'll go home and go about your daily life with a portable external stimulator attached to the lead. You'll continue to record your toilet habits during this test in a new diary.
The electrical impulses felt during this process are identical to that of the actual device. This device will be carried on a belt.
If you want to stop using the therapy you can have the device permanently removed.
After a few days of the home test, your doctor will explain the results to you. These will be based on your diaries before and during the test.
Implanting the device
You’ll talk over all the daily aspects of using the device and the risks and the advantages with your doctor. If both you and your healthcare team agree, you'll have the device implanted.
The lead is put in your body and the implantable neurostimulator device is placed under your skin in the upper part of the buttocks. Generally, the operation takes between 1 and 2 hours.
If you want to stop using the therapy you can have the device permanently removed. An operation to take the device out will be done by a surgeon.