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Urinary Incontinence health centre

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Electrical stimulation

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have stress incontinence. It tells you about electrical stimulation, a treatment used for stress incontinence. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes. Electrical stimulation may work as well as pelvic floor exercises to reduce leaking. But it can have side effects.

What is it?

Electrical stimulation means passing a mild electric current through your pelvic floor muscles. This makes them tighten (contract). The aim is to help you strengthen these muscles so they work better at keeping your bladder neck closed. This will stop urine leaking out when your bladder's under extra pressure, like when you cough or sneeze.

To stimulate your pelvic floor muscles in this way, your physiotherapist or nurse places a probe in or near your vagina. He or she then passes an electric current through the probe. You shouldn't feel any pain, but you might feel tingling or a 'pins-and-needles' feeling.

If you're comfortable using the machine yourself, you can do this at home. Your physiotherapist or nurse will tell you how often to do it. You might do it for 20 minutes to 60 minutes a day for about three weeks.

How can it help?

Electrical stimulation can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles so that you don't leak as much urine. [17] [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] It's especially helpful if you can't tighten (contract) these muscles at all.

It may work as well as pelvic floor exercises, vaginal cones, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). [38] [39] [37]

Most of the research looked to see whether electrical stimulation reduced leaking. We're not sure if it can get rid of stress incontinence completely. [47]

How does it work?

If you have stress incontinence, the pelvic floor muscles that support the opening of your bladder (your bladder neck) and keep it closed are weak. When there's extra pressure on your bladder and these muscles (for example, when you cough or sneeze), your bladder neck can't stay closed. So drops of urine leak out of the tube (urethra) that carries urine from your bladder to the outside.

Electrical stimulation is an artificial exercise of your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles help to keep your bladder closed so that urine doesn't leak out. The better they work, the less likely you are to leak urine. Exercising them should make them stronger and less likely to open when you cough, sneeze, or laugh.

If you have damaged nerves, electrical stimulation may also help these nerves to grow again. This will also help to reduce leaks.

Can it be harmful?

A few women who have electrical stimulation get these problems: [37] [48]

  • Tenderness and irritation in the vagina

  • Bleeding

  • Tingling in the thigh

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Problems using the machine.

Some women who have tried this treatment have not been too keen on it, probably because of the problems mentioned above. [38]

Last Updated: October 11, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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