Pelvic floor exercises, dietary changes and bladder training are all well-known treatment methods for managing urinary incontinence. However, a method that is highly effective yet hardly spoken of is electrical stimulation.
What is Electric Stimulation?
Electrical stimulation is often the most beneficial method of treatment for people with stress incontinence and very weak or damaged pelvic floor muscles. The method is particularly ideal for those who are too week to contract their pelvic floor muscles. Although primarily recommended for managing stress incontinence, the method can also be effective for some people dealing with urge and mixed incontinence. Recent studies have indicated that 54-77% of people using electric stimulation reported significant relief from symptoms of incontinence, including a decrease in the number of incontinence episodes and a decrease in the volume of a leak. Electrical stimulation is often referred to as pelvic floor muscle electrical stimulation (PFES) or functional electrical stimulation.
How does Electric Stimulation work?
Electric stimulation is often considered to be a more sophisticated form of biofeedback used for pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation. The method treats urinary incontinence through sending a mild electric current to nerves in the lower back or the pelvic muscles that are involved in urination. Pelvic Floor Electric Stimulation devices use a non-implantable device that produces electrical pulses to cause pelvic floor muscle contraction. Electric stimulation involves the stimulation of levator ani muscles using painless electric currents. When the pelvic floor muscles are stimulated with small electric currents, the levator ani muscles and urinary sphincter contract. Bladder contraction is therefore inhibited, helping people who have problems contracting their bladder. The device is attached to the pelvic floor via electrodes. Some electrodes are coated with conductive adhesive and attach to the skin of the pelvic floor. Electrodes that are designed for placement in the vagina or in the anus may be referred to as vaginal plug electrodes or anal plug electrodes. A pulsed current is the type of current most commonly used in electrical stimulation of the pelvic floor muscle or bladder. This current is the flow of charged particles either in one direction or in two directions that stops at regular intervals before flowing again.
How often should you practice Electric Stimulation?
Your Doctor can advise you on how long your sessions should last for. The length and frequency of sessions depends on the severity of your incontinence. For example, your treatment may consist of 12 weeks during which you have 15-minute stimulation sessions twice a day. This kind of stimulation has been used for both urge and stress incontinence. The device typically maintains the contraction for 5-30 seconds, then it allows the muscles to relax for 5-30 seconds. This contraction-relaxation cycle is typically applied for 30 minutes to an hour per session. However, some people with heavier incontinence may apply electrical stimulation for significantly longer periods, up to 20 hours per day.
Electrical muscle stimulation can be done in your doctor’s office or in the privacy of your home with an FDA cleared, over-the-counter muscle stimulation device.
Before trying electric stimulation for urinary incontinence, you should always talk to your Doctor first to make sure it is the right option for you. You should try and ask questions that will help you to rule out any obvious causes of your incontinence that could be solved more quickly.
You may want to ask your Doctor the following questions to ensure you are fully informed:
• Could any medicines I am taking for another condition be causing my incontinence?
• Are there any negative side effects of electric stimulation?
• Do I need to see a Urologist or specialist?
• Are there any other potential health problems that are affecting my bladder function?
• What other treatment methods do you recommend I try?
You may find electrical stimulation a difficult or inconvenient method, however it will prove to be extremely beneficial if you’re unable to complete pelvic floor muscle contractions. Studies over the past 30 years have found that electric stimulation is safe and effective. Recent studies have even shown that electric stimulation alone may help cure incontinence 70% of the time.