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Pacemaker for the bladder

LOS ANGELES – It’s a problem nobody wants to talk about suffering in silence and embarrassment.

Of the 25 million Americans living with incontinence, 80% are women.

A pacemaker for the bladder may be the answer.

Melissa DerManouel suffered for 12 years with an overactive bladder.

“If it starts to go, there’s no stopping mechanism,” DerManouel said.

For people like DerManouel, their brains and their bladders don’t communicate correctly.

DerManouel was the first person in the United States to receive the new Axonics sacral neuromodulator -- a remote-controlled pacemaker for the bladder.

“Basically we’re reprograming the nerve to the bladder,” said Dr. Felicia Lane, of the University of California Irvine.

The neuro stimulator is surgically implanted in the lower back near the third sacral nerve root. A small lead wire delivers electrical impulses to the nerves that regulate bladder control.

“Our bladder can store our urine or hold our urine longer and we’re not having these involuntary contractions of the bladder that are unwanted,” Lane said.

In previous devices, patients would need a new surgery to replace the stimulator every four years when the batteries died. Now, the new stimulator lasts 15 years and can be charged just by wearing this charger over the area the device was implanted.

“There’s nothing better than to see a bathroom and walk by it and not have to go,” DerManouel said.

Sacral neuromodulation is the only FDA-approved therapy that can treat both urinary and fecal symptoms with a single solution. Risks include infection after surgery, pain over the stimulator site and if the device moves, it may have to be removed. Right now, the stimulator is only being used for patients who have failed to respond to traditional incontinence treatments.