Researchers present new hope for stroke survivors with bladder problems

10 April 2015

Researchers present new hope for stroke survivors with bladder problems

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are testing the effectiveness of a mild electrical stimulation of the leg to relieve bladder symptoms caused by stroke.

Bladder problems are common after a stroke and for more than one third of stroke survivors’ will continue for longer than a year, having a huge impact on the stroke survivor and their long-term recovery.

Nerves that control the bladder are connected to the posterior tibial nerve, which is located on the back of the lower leg. By stimulating this nerve through the skin, nerves that control the bladder are stimulated as well. This is known as transcutaneous posterior tibial nerve stimulation (TPTNS).

The TREAT-UI (TPTNS for Rehabilitation and Treatment of Urinary Incontinence) project, led by GCU’s Professor of Rehabilitation Nursing Jo Booth, tests a new treatment for bladder problems which is simple, painless and easy to use at home.

It involves gentle electrical stimulation of the person’s ankle for half an hour, twice a week over a six-week period. Stroke survivors are taught how to attach and use the equipment themselves or with the help of their carer.

If the study, which received funding of £162,000 from the Stroke Association, is successful, it will lead to a full-scale, definitive multi-centre trial.

Eighty stroke survivors with bladder control problems will take part in the study. Half will receive TPTNS and half will receive a ‘dummy’ stimulation which won’t affect the posterior tibial nerve, but will feel the same. 

Such treatment has already been shown to reduce bladder control weakness in elderly people in care homes.

The researchers are also investigating how people feel about the treatment and whether they think it would be useful for people to use to self-treat their bladder problems in the future.

Mr Eamon Booth had a stroke four years ago and was left with bladder and bowel problems which meant he had very little time to find a toilet once he felt the need to go. Using the electrical stimulation for half an hour, twice a week for 12 weeks, has meant he now feels confident that he has time to get to a toilet without having any accidents.

He said: “It was an easy process. After six weeks, I saw an improvement, and after 12 weeks I thought, ‘this is wonderful’. I would recommend this, as life is now much more comfortable without the accidents.”

The researchers are now looking for other stroke survivors to help them test this new treatment.

Dr Shamim Quadir, Research Communications Manager at the Stroke Association, said: “Incontinence and bladder problems are highly distressing conditions which can have a huge impact on stroke survivors and their long-term recovery. A number of stroke patients have been closely involved in developing this research project; we hope their efforts will result in a new treatment which could benefit thousands of people facing disability as a result of stroke.”

Professor Booth said: “We have the potential to make a real difference to stroke survivors’ quality of life with this simple treatment, but first we need to show it is effective and to do that we need to test it properly.”

If you have had a stroke and have a bladder problem please contact Professor Booth on 0141 331 8635 or email the team at Treat-ui@gcu.ac.uk

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