Implant to help control weak bladder
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”.