Can Electricity Improve My Bladder Function?

Thursday, December 7, 2017
Kathryn Hill, WHNP-BC

Did you know that signals within your nervous system control your bladder function? It’s true. When your bladder is filling up, nerves in the low spinal area are activated and these signals travel up the spinal cord to your brain. This is what you perceive as the need to empty your bladder. Before we are toilet trained, the bladder contracts and empties (into a diaper) as soon as the signal is received. Once toilet trained, we can suppress the signal to empty the bladder until it is convenient and socially appropriate.

In the condition called overactive bladder (OAB for short) the normal signally process is disrupted. This can result in a frequent (frequency) and urgent (urgency) need to urinate and can be accompanied by urinary incontinence (leaking) associated with the urgency.

Since nerve signals control bladder function, treatments have been developed to help improve the function of these nerves. One treatment is Percutaneous Tibial Nerve Stimulation (PTNS). This is an office procedure which involves placing a very thin needle near the posterior tibial nerve at the inside of the ankle. When this nerve is stimulated, the signal travels up the nerve in the leg and communicates with (or “talks to”) the nerves in the low spine. A lead set is attached to the needle and a stimulator unit when turned on delivers electrical stimulation to the nerve. Patients generally feel a mild tingling sensation in the foot during the 30 minute treatment. Patients either sit in a chair or on the exam table during the treatment. Once the treatment is completed, the needle and lead set are removed. The treatment is repeated once weekly for 12 weeks. If symptoms have been improved, then maintenance treatments are begun and the interval between treatments is individually determined to maintain the benefit gained. Maintenance intervals average between every 8 -12 weeks.

So yes, electricity can potentially improve your bladder function and it can be a nice alternative to medications with virtually no side effects.