Sacral Nerve Stimulation for Incontinence

sacral nerve stimulation

Sacral nerve stimulation involves the placement of an implant to stimulate the sacral nerve.

Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS), also called sacral neuromodulation, involves surgical implantation of a device that sends a low-voltage electrical current to the sacral nerve. The sacral nerve is located at the base of the spine that affects the bladder, bowel, and pelvic floor. The implant stimulates the sacral nerve and to alleviate fecal and/or urinary incontinence.  A hand-held device is used to stop the contraction of your sphincter muscles when you need to empty your bowels.

Who Benefits from Sacral Nerve Stimulation

Adult patients experiencing urinary incontinence due to retention (overflow incontinence) and/or overactive bladder with urge incontinence, and individuals with fecal incontinence and/or chronic constipation who have failed other treatments may be able to try this treatment.  You must be able to operate the hand-held programmer device.  There are medical conditions that may prevent the safe use of this sacral nerve stimulator.  Also if you need certain medical tests, you may not be able to use this treatment.  Ask your doctor if you are a possible candidate.

If you have bowel incontinence or chronic constipation, use of the sacral nerve stimulator may result in improvement in your ability to delay emptying your bowels, decrease the number of episodes of bowel incontinence, and improve your quality of life.

Things to Keep in Mind

This treatment helps to manage incontinence, but doesn’t cure it. If the implant is removed at any point, or stops working, incontinence will remain.  Sacral nerve stimulation may not make you completely dry at all times, and you still may need to wear an absorbent product.

As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of infection or complications from anesthesia or the device that is implanted.

Note: The sacral nerve stimulator may be affected by heart pacemakers, ultrasonic equipment, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), theft detectors and screening devices, and other devices.  Discuss these concerns with your physician.

Medical Reviewer: Carrie Carls , RN, BSN, CWOCN, CHRN

Ms. Carls, BSN, RN, CWOCN, is the nursing director of advanced wound healing and hyperbaric medicine at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois.  Her article, “Prevalence of Stress Urinary Incontinence in High School and College Age Female Athletes in the Midwest : Implications for Practice” appeared in the Urologic Nursing, February 2007, and she has made presentations at national conferences regarding incontinence issues.  She teaches content in the areas of wound, ostomy, and continence care to baccalaureate nursing students at MacMurray College , and facilitates the West Central Illinois UOAA ostomy support group.

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