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Sacral Nerve Stimulation


What do I need to know about sacral nerve stimulation?

Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) is treatment for urinary retention without blockage, overactive bladder symptoms, and fecal incontinence. Overactive bladder symptoms include urinary urge incontinence and urinary frequency. Electrical impulses are sent directly to the sacral nerves to improve or restore bladder or bowel function. Sacral nerves are in your lower back. They control your anus, rectum, and bladder functioning. SNS is done when medicine and behavior therapy are not effective.

What will happen during SNS?

SNS is a two-part procedure:

  • The first part is a trial phase to see if it will improve your symptoms. A temporary or permanent lead is placed into your lower back, through to your sacral nerves, for 3 days to 2 weeks. The lead is connected to an external stimulator. Electrical impulses will stimulate your sacral nerves. You will be asked to write down your symptoms and bladder or bowel function.
  • The second part involves implanting the stimulator. Your healthcare provider will complete this part if you had a decrease in symptoms during the trial phase. He will make an incision on the side of your upper buttock. A space is made just under your skin and the stimulator is connected to a permanent lead. Then, the stimulator is placed in the space and the space is closed with stitches. You will be given a programming device to adjust and turn the stimulator off and on as needed.

What are the risks of SNS?

You can have pain, discomfort and infection in the area where the stimulator was implanted. You may have an allergic reaction to the materials that the lead or stimulator is made from. You may have pain or feel a shock during stimulation. The lead may move and you may need to have the procedure done again. You cannot have an MRI of your abdomen or pelvis if you have a stimulator implanted. An MRI can cause the leads to heat up and cause problems with your stimulator. You may set off metal detectors at airports or theft detectors in stores.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have pain at the stimulator site.
  • You have a fever and the stimulator site is red and warm to the touch.
  • Your symptoms return or get worse.
  • You have new pain or new symptoms with stimulation.
  • You feel like you are being shocked with the stimulator on or off.


  • Tell all of your healthcare providers that you have an implanted sacral nerve stimulation device.
  • Keep the card that identifies you have an implanted stimulator, with you at all times.
  • Keep the programming device with you at all times.
  • Limit activity such as stretching and lifting. Ask your healthcare provider how long you need to limit activity.
  • Write down your symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider how to complete the diary of symptoms.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You will need regular visits to monitor your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will also need to check the programming of your device. Bring your diary with symptoms. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them at your visit.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.