When Should Someone with Bladder Leakage Seek Medical Treatment?

Posted on: 11th Mar, 2022


Millions of people just put up with symptoms of bladder incontinence or overactive bladder. And that might be a reasonable plan at the beginning, but these conditions are progressive and tend to become much worse over time, making them less compatible with normal life. For so many people, the minor inconvenience soon becomes a major disruption and a big source of misery. Canceling social events, skipping family occasions, avoiding church functions, just staying home — these become all too common when one knows there is a risk of bladder or bowel accidents, needing to change clothes, or find bathrooms with a moment’s notice. So, when should someone with bladder leakage seek medical treatment?

Treatment Options for Incontinence

We all know that the treatments for incontinence and overactive bladder have not had a particularly good track record until recently. Medications only work for mild cases, and seniors are strongly advised to avoid most medications because of the risks of memory loss and cognitive impairment. Surgery involves general anesthesia, incisions, mesh, or other sling type materials, is invasive, and most frustratingly, often does not work to solve either the leakage or the bladder spasms.

The one therapy that consistently delivers an extremely high success rate —  often eliminating the problem —  with a truly minimally invasive minor procedure is sacral neuromodulation. Few people are familiar with the technology, so think of it like a small pacemaker device — a tiny computer with a chip that’s placed under the skin to deliver a computerized signal that restores the nerves and muscles. After the 25-minute procedure, the person walks out with two Band-Aids, and more importantly, no more diapers.

This pelvic floor pacemaker, with a short, painless minor procedure, has become the cornerstone therapy for bladder and bowel leakage and overactive bladder. Adding at-home pelvic floor exercises can help tone and maintain the pelvic floor muscles, just like any other muscles in the body.

And while every case is different, this approach of the least invasive, most effective technology, combined with natural exercises, brings relief while avoiding invasive surgery and chronic medications. There are of course cases in which additional therapies provide benefits, but we have found that the minimally invasive technology combined with exercise nearly always solves the problem and delivers dramatic improvement in quality of life.

The Right Timing

But when should a person consider moving forward? Is there a set number of accidents per week or per day, a certain number of diapers or pads, a certain number of times per night being awakened? The answer is of course no. It depends entirely on the individual and how much it is interfering with life. Nobody likes to wear pads and diapers, and nobody enjoys having leakage or accidents. Not too many people enjoy being awakened at night for the bathroom or having bladder spasms. Most people that receive a sacral neuromodulation implant report that they only wish they had known about it and acted sooner. They could have saved thousands of dollars in pads and diapers and a lot of heartache. Most people who are suffering with the bladder problems today are also completely unaware that the problem can be solved with a 25-minute procedure and without invasive surgery or medications. 

Medicare and virtually all the health insurance plans in this country cover sacral neuromodulation because it has proven to be the best solution for around 20 years, and it only keeps improving. Those health plans often require that people give a try with what the plan considers “first line” therapy -usually exercises and medication. So, you may be advised to work with an initial trial of other therapies before moving forward with the definitive pacemaker solution. The next step is normally to have a trial procedure during which the surgeon uses some local anesthesia to assess one’s nerves and muscles and then evaluate a temporary device taped to the outside of the skin for a few days. That way, if the trial device works to solve the overactive bladder or incontinence, you can feel confident moving forward with the implant.

The Takeaway

So, when is the time to consider sacral neuromodulation technology for yourself or a loved one? Only you can decide how much the problem is bothering you or interfering with your life. No one should put up with canceling the most important occasions in life or wearing diapers. At least be aware of the safety, simplicity, effectiveness, and insurance coverage of the modern treatment, and know that there is a solution out there.

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