Abu Dhabi: A ‘bladder pacemaker’ has enabled a 25-year-old Emirati to get back to a normal life, without having to rely on a catheter to pass urine.
Fatima had been experiencing bouts of urinary problems from a young age. She would have difficulty emptying her bladder, which caused her a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment. And to pass urine, she had to rely on a catheter, a solution that caused her deep distress. “I had been living with this problem on and off for years. I had tried medications and other therapies, but nothing worked. It was so stressful to live with a problem like this and trying to live a normal life, especially since I didn’t like to discuss it. I avoided going out too much and couldn’t visit the beach or [do] anything like that,” she said.
As she got older, her symptoms worsened. Then earlier this year, she visited the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD) in search of a solution. Following a complete evaluation, her care team determined that a device that stimulates the nerves that control the bladder would restore normal function, allowing her to pass urine normally again. “This device acts like a pacemaker for the bladder. It can be used to treat both incontinence and difficulty passing urine, restoring normal habits and giving people back a sense of control over their lives. Once people come forward, they are generally surprised and relieved to find that they are not alone and there is a solution to their problem. For people like Fatima, being freed from urinary problems is transformative, allowing them to live their lives to the full,” said Dr Zaki Almallah, urologist at the CCAD.
He explained that in Fatima’s case, the sphincter muscles in her bladder were not contracting to squeeze out the urine. This can be idiopathic i.e., spontaneous and without a known cause, or can be a result of an injury, or even nerve damage from conditions like diabetes. “In most cases, these problems — when they cannot be treated with medication — require the patient to use a catheter to pass urine. Needless to say, this can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, and increase the risk of infection,” the doctor explained.
Hopes for normal function
Following a short, minimally invasive surgery to install the wires and the device, which is the size of a matchbox, under her skin, Fatima has made a complete recovery. She will continue visiting the hospital for check-ups every few months in the hope that she can regain normal function without the device in two to three years. “I am so pleased that this chapter of my life is behind me. Dr. Almallah and the care team were so supportive and understanding that I wish I had found them years ago. And I advise people in a similar situation not to wait and visit a urologist as soon as possible. It could save you years of suffering,” Fatima added.
Dr Almallah said 40 per cent of women suffer from some kind of urinary incontinence at some point in their lives, or even develop bladder failure. “Because they feel embarrassed, many women ignore the problem for a long time. But if left untreated, these issues can result in urinary retention, severe urinary tract infection or even kidney failure. Women shouldn’t suffer in silence, especially when there are treatments available,” the doctor added.