Im­plant to help con­trol weak blad­der

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFESTYLE - |

A BAT­TERY-POW­ERED pace­maker im­planted in the but­tock could ban­ish em­bar­rass­ing leaks for mil­lions of peo­ple with blad­der­con­trol prob­lems.

The im­plant, about the size of a USB mem­ory stick, works by zap­ping a nerve in the spine that helps to con­trol urine flow.

An added bonus of the de­vice, made by US firm Ax­on­ics, is that it is the first that can be recharged wire­lessly through the skin. It lasts 15 years, three times as long as the ex­ist­ing im­plants of­fered on the UK’s Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS).

British ex­perts say that the new im­plant, which costs £20 000 (R349 000) pri­vately, could slash the num­ber of sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures re­quired by pa­tients.

Neil Harris, con­sul­tant uro­log­i­cal sur­geon at Leeds Teach­ing Hos­pi­tals NHS Trust and Spire Leeds Hos­pi­tal, said: “Pre­vi­ous sys­tems were about the size of a match­box, but this is far smaller, which means we need to make only a tiny in­ci­sion of less than half an inch. And it’s recharge­able, so it should save pa­tients re­peated surgery.”

An over­ac­tive blad­der af­fects about eight mil­lion men and women in the UK, and trig­gers a sud­den need to uri­nate, day or night.

It is caused by a prob­lem with the de­tru­sor mus­cles, lo­cated in the walls of the blad­der. These re­lax to al­low the blad­der to fill with urine, then con­tract to let it out when it is full. But some­times the mus­cles con­tract too of­ten, cre­at­ing a sud­den and ur­gent need to go.

A good long-term so­lu­tion to an over­ac­tive blad­der has been sacral nerve mod­u­la­tion, where a tiny gen­er­a­tor is im­planted in the lower back and wired up to the sacral nerve, which runs from the spine to the pelvis and con­trols the blad­der.

But ex­ist­ing stim­u­la­tors need to be swopped for new ones af­ter just five years, once the bat­ter­ies die.

The Ax­on­ics im­plant lasts three times as long be­cause it has a recharge­able bat­tery.

This is topped up once ev­ery two weeks, us­ing a spe­cial belt with a built-in charger, po­si­tioned to sit di­rectly over the im­plant. The pa­tient just pops the belt on for an hour.

A ma­jor in­ter­na­tional study found that 91% of pa­tients saw a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in symp­toms and qual­ity of life with the im­plant.

Al­though it was ap­proved for sale in the UK in 2016, un­til re­cently it was avail­able only as part of a clin­i­cal trial.

Amy Lyons, 22, from Leeds, was one of the first peo­ple in Bri­tain to ben­e­fit. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a kid­ney in­fec­tion, she found she no longer had any con­trol over her blad­der: “I’d leak un­ex­pect­edly, so I needed to carry three changes of un­der­wear and was scared to go out. I de­vel­oped ago­ra­pho­bia and had to quit my stud­ies.”

Lyons was re­ferred to Spire

Leeds Hos­pi­tal and last April had a 60-minute pro­ce­dure un­der a spinal anaes­thetic. Three hours af­ter surgery, she could “pee nat­u­rally”.

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