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If your overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms aren’t adequately tamed by exercises, lifestyle measures, and medication, there’s another kind of therapy you should know about. Electrical stimulation uses a mild electric current to provide relief.
Some people might be spooked by the words “electric current.” But once you understand how electrical stimulation works, chances are you’ll see that it’s nothing to worry about.
There are three different kinds of electrical stimulation. A doctor should diagnose what’s causing your OAB symptoms before you use any of them.
Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) implants a small device under your skin that acts like a pacemaker for your bladder. It emits tiny electrical impulses to interrupt malfunctioning nerve signals that may trigger OAB symptoms. The surgery is a minor procedure done on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.
Before you have the surgery, your doctor can let you try SNS for a few weeks to see whether it helps you. A wire is temporarily inserted into your lower back and connected to a stimulator device that you wear.
Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) doesn’t require surgery. Surprisingly, this therapy is administered about as far from the bladder as you can get: near the ankle. There, the doctor places a thin needle under the skin that sends small electrical impulses to the tibial nerve in your leg. Those impulses travel to other nerves that control your bladder, where they help block nerve signals that could cause OAB. The needle is removed after treatment.
PTNS takes about 30 minutes, and it’s done in the doctor’s office. Typically, it’s repeated once a week for 12 weeks. Depending on results, some individuals need to continue treatments once a month.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) strengthens bladder muscles to help improve bladder control. Electrical pulses that exercise the bladder muscles are delivered through wires placed in the male’s rectum or female’s vagina during stimulation sessions.
You can buy TENS devices without a prescription, but overactive bladder treatments with TENS should be administered under the direction of a doctor. He or she can recommend the right intensity, duration, and frequency of treatments.
You may have heard of using TENS for a different reason. It’s a popular alternative therapy for treating pain with electrodes applied to the surface of the skin. Its effectiveness for that use remains unproven, though.
A brighter future
There’s no cure for overactive bladder, but most people can find treatments that substantially improve their symptoms. What works best for one person may not for another, so don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t seem to help.
Talk with your doctor about whether electrical stimulation therapy may be right for you. Don’t forget to check your insurance coverage to see whether it’s covered.
With effort and persistence, chances are good that you’ll soon be making fewer trips to the bathroom and feel greater confidence to resume the activities you love.
Have you tried electrical stimulation? We’d love to hear what you think of it. Add a comment below and tell us about your experience.