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Bowel > Bowel Treatments > Sacral Nerve Stimulation

Sacral Nerve Stimulation

Nerve stimulation by a treatment called Sacral Neuromodulation can help some people who experience bowel problems such as incontinence and chronic constipation. The treatment is a success for many people, however, it is not suitable for everyone and your doctor or health professional should advise you carefully about this.

Neuromodulation is a reversible option that can immediately reduce and even eliminate the bowel problems.

Neuromodulation is also indicated for overactive bladder and can be used to treat both bladder problems and bowel problems at the same time.

What does it involve?

A small device, similar to a pacemaker, is surgically implanted just beneath the skin in the upper buttock. It is called a Neurostimulator. It's about the same size of the face of a typical stopwatch (44 mm high, 51 mm long and 7.7 mm thick). A thin wire is implanted in the lower back and connected to the device.

This device acts as a battery and stimulates the appropriate nerves via the implanted wire by using mild electrical impulses.

By doing this, it can help restore coordination between brain, pelvic floor, bowel or bladder and sphincter muscles.

What does Sacral Neuromodulation treat?

Sacral Neuromodulation may effectively treat faecal incontinence and chronic constipation in some patients. It may also effectively treat overactive bladder such as leaking and the frequent, strong, and sudden urge to go to the toilet. It may also alleviate symptoms of retention that are not caused by an obstruction. In some cases, it may alleviate symptoms of interstitial cystitis.

Sacral Neuromodulation is a therapy that's used when more conservative options (such as dietary changes or biofeedback) haven't worked or are too difficult to live with. A doctor will assess each patient's suitability for the treatment.

How do you know it will work for you?

Sacral Neuromodulation is performed in two stages, the first is an evaluation/test phase and the next is the implant phase. The evaluation phase allows your doctor to assess whether or not you will benefit from Sacral Neuromodulation.

Before any of this though, you'll spend a few weeks at home recording your toilet habits in a diary form to use as a base for future comparison.

Evaluation Phase

A thin temporary wire is inserted near the nerves in your lower back, the so called sacral nerves that control the bowel. The wire is then connected to an external battery which delivers mild electrical pulses to the nerves. This external battery is worn on a belt for the duration of the evaluation. The surgical procedure normally takes less than an hour and is generally done as a day case.

After the temporary wire is inserted you'll go home and go about your daily life, continuing to record your toilet habits during this test in a new diary.

After several days of the home evaluation, your doctor will explain the results to you. Several measures will be used to assess whether or not you will benefit from Sacral Neuromdulation. These include recording the number of incontinence episodes before and after the test, quality of life assessments, and patient satisfaction.

Implant Phase

Following a positive evaluation, a permanent battery will be surgically placed.
Should your evaluation be a failure, the temporary wire will be removed in clinic and your specialist will either consider repeating the test or discuss other options with you.

The science behind Sacral Neuromodulation

One way the brain controls our body's muscles and movements is through electrical messages, which are carried by nerves. These 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. Our 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.

Further Information

This page has been updated with the help of an unrestricted educational grant from Medtronic Limited.

Sacral nerve stimulation is not suitable for everyone so please discuss this with your GP who can refer you to a consultant if appropriate.

Sacral nerve stimulation patients are required to remain under continuous healthcare professional follow up at one of the highly specialised centres around the UK. If you'd like to find out where your nearest Sacral Neuromodulation centre is, please click here where you'll be directed to a search facility on the website. You can also call our specialist helpline on the number below for information on your local centre.

If you are concerned about your problem and it is starting to affect your day to day life make an appointment to see your doctor, continence nurse or specialist physiotherapist. Continence nurses and specialist physiotherapists are healthcare professionals who specialise in bladder and bowel problems.

You can also call our specialist helpline on 0845 345 0165 (24 hour answerphone) for medical advice, or call our office on 01535 533255 to find out where your nearest NHS continence service is.

This page has been updated with the help of an unrestricted educational grant from Medtronic.

Last updated: 13/08/2014

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