The NHS estimates that up to six million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence and studies suggest that faecal incontinence affects 1.4% of the general UK population over 40 years old.
Yet despite being a common condition, incontinence remains deeply taboo, leaving sufferers isolated and feeling unable to seek help. A minority of those affected consult their doctor and even fewer receive adequate treatment.
Wendy Wakefield of Dorset had been living with the condition for years before consulting her doctor. She recalls: By the time I contacted my GP, incontinence had completely taken over my life, I was constantly thinking about it and was always worried about where I could find the nearest toilet. I just wanted to stay at home all the time in case there was an ‘accident’.”
Incontinence is caused by damage to muscles or nerves which control the bladder or bowels. This damage can result from pregnancy and childbirth, being overweight, weak pelvic muscles, diabetes, cancer or neurological disorders.
Wendy’s doctor tried a number of treatments to help her. Unfortunately these made little or no difference to her incontinence. Eventually Wendy went to see a colorectal surgeon to discuss surgery to help alleviate the condition.
Wendy was one of the few to get a permanent solution. The surgeon recommended a procedure to insert a medical device to control her problem. The device, called InterStim, is part of a reversible procedure which can treat both bowel and bladder incontinence.
InterStim is small device which is connected to a wire placed into the nerves in the lower back. Through this wire InterStim provides mild electrical impulses into the sacral nerve (known as sacral nerve stimulation or sacral neuromodulation) which controls the function of bladder and bowel muscles. Stimulating the nerves in this way ‘awakens’ the damaged nerves and forces them back into action.
Although not for everyone suffering from incontinence, Wendy’s doctors considered that InterStim might be a good option for her, as she had no success with more conservative treatment.
Initially the surgeons used a test stimulator on Wendy to check the therapy would help her. Following this successful trial, the permanent device is implanted, under local anaesthetic, in the upper buttock.
After the surgery, Wendy’s doctor programmed the neuro-stimulator to give the same stimulation as during the trial assessment. Wendy was then shown how to use the patient programmer so she could adjust the settings herself. There were a number of check-ups with the doctors to ensure everything was working properly.
Wendy recalls the effects were immediate and long lasting: “The surgery turned out to be very simple. I was in and out on the same day, and the effects were instant. There was no pain at all and the device made an immediate difference. It’s fantastic, I don’t even know the neurostimulator is there and it’s given me my life back!”
Wendy concludes: “I had been living with incontinence for a long time before I decided to go and see the doctor. It took me far too long speak to my doctor but now my incontinence is a thing of the past.”
Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.