Bladder ‘pacemaker’ controls incontinence

InterStim technology uses electronic impulses to restore normal bladder and bowel function

A new device described as “a pacemaker for the bladder” is offering relief to a wider range of incontinence sufferers in Australia for the first time, thanks to Sydney’s North Shore Private Hospital.

Doctor Amanda Chung was the first surgeon in the Southern Hemisphere to implant the technology, which electrically stimulates nerves in a sacral spinal root and sends signals to the brain to restore normal bladder and bowel function.

Dr Chung said many people suffer in silence instead of seeking help due to societal stigmas over incontinence and bladder conditions – despite their high prevalence among the population.

Around 4.2 million Australians suffer from an overactive bladder and 1.3 million live with faecal incontinence.

“I really want people to be empowered to know that there is hope and they can get appropriate help,” Dr Chung said.

“The solutions can be simple and minimally invasive, and there are new technologies that can help.”

The device she has been implanting features Medtronic’s SureScan lead, an advancement of the long-established Interstim technology that makes treatment possible for patients previously ineligible due to MRI testing needs.

“It’s basically a pacemaker for the bladder. There’s a wire or a lead that goes into the lower back and then the battery is implanted into the upper buttocks and send messages to the nerves that control the bladder,” Dr Chung said.

“It’s underneath the skin so you can essentially lead a normal life and nobody can see it.”

Doctor Chung said her first patient to receive the device was a 33-year-old man who had suffered from urinary symptoms, such as very high frequency and leakage, for several years.

“It had been getting him quite down and depressed, and I’ve had other patients who couldn’t get through a one-hour meeting without needing to go to the bathroom, so it really can impact their quality of life,” she said.

“I think a lot of people are embarrassed and don’t realise there are treatments available, so if anyone is suffering I would urge them to take that first step and speak to their GP.”

North Shore Private Hospital CEO Richard Ryan said Dr Chung’s Australia-first surgery was another milestone for the Ramsay Health Care facility.

“North Shore Private is proud to be at the forefront of the latest medical technology and innovations, so we’re very pleased to be the first hospital in Australia to have the Interstim MRI SureScan option for patients,” Mr Ryan said.

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