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Bladder Stimulator: Types & Risks

What is a Bladder Stimulator?

A bladder stimulator is a device that can be used by people who are unable to control the urge to urinate. It happens in people with an overactive bladder. An overactive bladder can interfere with everyday tasks as people need to visit the bathroom frequently. It can also disrupt the sleep cycle. Also, those who have problems with the leaking of urine may suffer from the risk of developing infection.(1)

An overactive bladder can be due to the followings reasons:

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Bladder stimulation is a procedure in which electric currents are sent to the nerves and muscles to control urination.

Type of Bladder Stimulator

Bladder stimulators are of two types:

  1. Sacral Neuromodulation or Sacral Nerve Stimulation

    In this type of bladder stimulation, a wire is placed into the patient’s spine. This wire is connected to a stimulation device, placed under the skin of a person. The device works by sending signals to the nerves that control the bladder.

    The bladder stimulator levels are controlled by an external stimulator.

    A study showed sacral nerve stimulation to be an effective treatment for younger people, females, and individuals with nerve-related symptoms.(2) It was found to be not so effective for older people and those with an overactive bladder with unknown causes.

    Procedure: In the beginning, the doctor tests whether or not the stimulation will be effective in a person. For this, a wire is implanted under the skin and the person is given an external device to control it. The device is tested for several days to improve symptoms. If a noticeable improvement is observed, permanent implantation is recommended.

    In the implantation phase, the wire is implanted in the lower back. It is a minimally invasive procedure that does not require an overnight stay in the hospital.

    Side Effects: The side effects of sacral nerve stimulation include:(5)

    • Infection
    • Pain
    • Skin irritation
    • Lead movement

    Some people may have pain in the lower back, buttocks, and thigh and some may experience temporary weakness in the legs.

    There may also be complications due to device function.

  2. Percutaneous Tibial Nerve Stimulation

    Percutaneous nerve stimulation is a procedure in which surgery is not required. It is also cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of urinary urgency, urinary frequency, and incontinence.

    This procedure is performed in the office of the doctor. An acupuncture-like needle that is attached to an electrical device is placed on the inside of the patient’s ankle. A mild electrical stimulation is given through the needle for 30 minutes.

    A review in 2017 concluded that percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation is effective in about 60% of people.(3)

    Procedure: Percutaneous nerve stimulation is a procedure demanding multiple in-person treatments.

    During the procedure, fine needles are inserted near the ankle. These needles are connected to a battery-powered stimulator that delivers electrical impulses to the nerves of the leg responsible for the bladder. Depending on the response of the person, the intensity of the device is adjusted.

    Mostly a 30 minutes session for 12 weeks is enough for people. The additional frequency may be needed by a few in the initial period of treatment.(4)

    Side Effects: The side effects of percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation are mild and include:(6)

    • Redness
    • Slight pain
    • Minor irritation
    • Bleeding at the site of needle insertion
    • Numbness of toe
    • Abdominal discomfort

Risks Associated with Bladder Stimulators

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Bladder stimulators may not be safe for everyone. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, sacral nerve stimulators are not recommended for pregnant females and those with spina bifida.(7)

Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulators should not be considered for those with:

  • Bleeding problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Nerve damage

People with overactive bladder benefit from bladder stimulators. They help in reducing the frequency of bathroom trips. Those interested in going ahead with bladder stimulators should speak with their doctors and discuss the procedure and its risks.

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