Overactive bladder is a common condition that causes the sudden urge to urinate. It can also cause you to empty your bladder involuntarily.

One possible treatment for an overactive bladder is called bladder stimulation. This is done by sending a mild electric current through the nerves and muscles that control urination. This may help restore your ability to control your urge to urinate, as well as treat incontinence.

Bladder stimulation isn’t for everyone — and you may need to try a couple of other treatments before your doctor recommends a bladder stimulation method.

Let’s discuss different types of bladder stimulation, what we know (and don’t know) about how it works, and who is a good candidate for the treatment.

Your bladder is a hollow organ that fills with the liquid you’ve consumed and digested. The organ is supposed to contract and empty when it is full.

Usually, your bladder tells your brain when it needs to be emptied through a muscle contraction, giving you the urge to “go.”

When you have an overactive bladder, the detrusor muscle that contracts when you pee is more active than it should be. This means you might feel the need to urinate when you don’t have to.

It can also mean that you’re not able to fully control when your bladder empties. This can cause urine to leak out of your bladder when you don’t want it to — also known as incontinence.

Who does overactive bladder affect?

A 2016 review estimates that overactive bladder affects 16 percent of people, including people of all genders — although people with a vagina are more likely to develop the condition earlier in life.

Abdominal trauma, pelvic surgery, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and neurological conditions can all increase your chances of developing overactive bladder and incontinence.

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Although overactive bladder is common, it doesn’t mean that it’s a typical part of aging.

When you’re concerned about incontinence, any activity outside of your home can feel like you’re risking embarrassment. Bladder stimulation is meant to retrain your muscles and nerves to give you more control over when your bladder releases urine.

There are a few types of bladder stimulation that doctors currently recommend for people with overactive bladder, including sacral nerve stimulation and tibial nerve stimulation.

If these treatments don’t work for you, a doctor might recommend urinary incontinence surgery.

Sacral nerve stimulation

This type of bladder stimulation uses electrodes implanted under your skin to stimulate your sacral nerve roots where they come out of your spine. The electrical impulses are controlled via a transmitter.

This type of treatment requires the device to be surgically implanted. The doctor will first implant the device on a trial basis and test to see if the stimulation is actually helpful for your overactive bladder. You’ll need to track your bowel movements and urination during these weeks.

After 2 to 4 weeks, you and the doctor can decide if you are going to have the device installed permanently. This requires a second surgical procedure.

With this kind of stimulator, the device is implanted under your skin, and you won’t see or hear anything while you’re using it. You can also control the level of the device using an external control mechanism of the electrical impulses via a remote control.

Tibial nerve stimulation

Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) is a nonsurgical treatment done in a doctor’s office. A very thin needle is inserted close to your tibial nerve, located around your ankle. The nerve is then stimulated by a small transmitter.

PTNS requires multiple treatment sessions of 30 minutes each. A course of treatment is typically done each week for 12 weeks or more. After several months of weekly sessions, you may be able to simply go to the doctor’s office for treatment once a month to maintain the results.

Clinical trials suggest that the efficacy of these treatments varies widely. It’s hard to know if it’s going to be effective for you and to what extent your symptoms will decrease, if at all.

Sacral nerve stimulation

Sacral nerve stimulation offers a permanent solution due to the nature of the device being installed under your skin. Since you have to test the device for a period of weeks before it is made permanent, long-term success rates may be higher.

A 2016 review suggests that 90 percent of participants reported a 50 percent decrease in their symptoms after having the nerve stimulator implanted.

Sacral nerve stimulation might continue to improve your symptoms even as time goes by. The same 2016 review also covered a study in which 59 percent of people had a 50 percent decrease in their symptoms even 3 years after they started using the device.

Tibial nerve stimulation

The efficacy and long-term effects of PTNS are less straightforward.

In a 2017 study that included 220 people with overactive bladder, half of the participants were given PTNS for 12 weeks, while the other half received a placebo treatment. Of those who received the real treatment, 55 percent showed marked or moderate improvement.

If you find PTNS to be effective after 12 weeks, you won’t have to continue going to the doctor’s for treatment every week.

But after a few months, you may notice that your symptoms start to go back to how they were when you started. It’s recommended that you get a PTNS treatment every 2 to 3 weeks for the best results and to maintain the progress you’ve made.

Bladder stimulation is one possible treatment option for an overactive bladder. It involves sending a mild electric current through the nerves and muscles that control urination.

Sacral nerve stimulation and tibial nerve stimulation are two types of bladder stimulation that doctors recommend for people with overactive bladder. You may need to try other treatments first before your doctor recommends a bladder stimulation treatment.

Bladder stimulation isn’t for everyone and the effectiveness of the treatments can vary. If you have overactive bladder, talk with your doctor about the treatment options that may work best for you.