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Sacral Nerve Stimulation

Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) involves the use of a surgically implanted neurostimulator. This is used to treat both fecal and urinary incontinence in patients who have failed or could not tolerate more conservative treatments. Like a pacemaker for the heart, a sacral nerve stimulator acts as a pacemaker for the bladder and bowel.

The stimulator delivers electrical impulses to the sacral nerve. An electrical lead is implanted near the sacral nerve, and a programmer is used to control the electrical impulses delivered by the neurostimulator. The programmer is a handheld device that is not implanted.

Doctors believe the electrical stimulation improves the quality of the signal transmitted by the brain to the organs controlled by the sacral nerve, including the bladder, urinary and anal sphincters, pelvic floor, and colon, which improve how the organs function. Like a pacemaker for the heart, a sacral nerve stimulator acts as a pacemaker for the bladder and bowel.

How is it implanted?

Patients undergo a two-week trial period in which just the electrical lead is surgically implanted. The lead is threaded through the sacrum to the sacral nerve and is connected to an external neurostimulator. Patients track the number of bowel accidents they have during the two-week trial period. If their bowel accidents decline by at least 50 percent, the patient can have the neurostimulator permanently implanted under the skin of the upper buttocks.

What kind of follow-up care is required?

An external handheld device is used to adjust and control the electrical impulse generated by the device. The settings can be adjusted to optimize treatment for each patient. Also, just like a pacemaker for the heart, the device is battery-powered. Battery life depends on the stimulation settings used and how often the neurostimulator is on, but most devices typically require replacement every three to five years. 

To discuss this treatment option with a Summa physician who treats fecal incontinence, request an appointment online or call (800) 237-8662 .