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What Exactly Is Sacral Neuromodulation?

Sarah Jenkins

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For those of us with incontinence, we’ve heard about all the mainstream treatment options available – in fact, we’ve probably tried many of them.  Absorbents are a mainstay in our bags, we’ve been on one or two medications to try to control the problem, and may have even tried physical therapy.  We’ve heard some talk of surgical procedures but just aren’t sure we’re ready for that yet.  But did you know that there are other procedures out there to treat this problem too? Ones that are simple to perform in a doctor’s office? 

Sacral neuromodulation (SNM) is a procedure that is performed in your doctor’s office and modulates the nerve activity between the brain and the bladder through electric stimulation of the sacral nerve. The sacral nerve delivers signals between the brain and the bladder.  SNM helps to control these signals, so that the bladder functions normally. 

SNM involves 2 phases – an evaluation phase and an implantation phase.  During the evaluation phase, which lasts around 2 weeks and is designed to see if SNM will be a beneficial option to you, a thin, temporary wire is inserted in your lower back, near the sacral nerves, which control the bladder.  A device is connected to the wire, which delivers electric stimulation to the sacral nerves.

Once your doctor has determined that SNM will be effective for you, the wire used during the evaluation period will be removed and a more permanent device, similar to a pacemaker is implanted just under the skin, usually in the buttocks.  Your doctor will monitor you over time, but in most cases, it has shown to be effective in patients for as many as five years.

SNM is a good option to consider when other treatments, such as physical therapy and medication, have failed.  To find out more about SNM and if it is right for you, talk to your urologist.

Need help finding a urologist in your area? Use the NAFC Specialist Locator!