Purpose: The global prevalence of overactive bladder (OAB) is estimated at 11.8%. Despite existing treatment options such as sacral neuromodulation, a substantial number of patients remain untreated. One potential alternative is noninvasive transcutaneous electrical stimulation. This form of stimulation does not necessitate the implantation of an electrode, thereby eliminating the need for highly skilled surgeons, expensive implantable devices, or regular hospital visits. We hypothesized that alternative neural pathways can impact bladder contraction.
Methods: In this pilot study, we conducted transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the abdominal wall (T6-L1), the ear (vagus nerve), and the ankle (tibial nerve) of 3 anesthetized female Sprague-Dawley rats. Stimulation was administered within a range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and its impact on intravesical pressure was measured. We focused on 3 primary outcomes related to intravesical pressure: (1) the pressure change from the onset of a contraction to its peak, (2) the average duration of contraction, and (3) the number of contractions within a specified timeframe. These measurements were taken while the bladder was filled with either saline or acetic acid (serving as a model for OAB).
Results: Transcutaneous stimulation of the abdominal wall, ear, and ankle at a frequency of 20 Hz decreased the number of bladder contractions during infusion with acetic acid. As revealed by a comparison of various stimulation frequencies of the tibial nerve during bladder infusion with acetic acid, the duration of contraction was significantly shorter during stimulation at 1 kHz and 3 kHz relative to stimulation at 20 Hz (P = 0.025 and P = 0.044, respectively).
Conclusion: The application of transcutaneous electrical stimulation to the abdominal wall, ear, and tibial nerve could provide less invasive and more cost-effective treatment options for OAB relative to percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation and sacral neuromodulation. A follow-up study involving a larger sample size is recommended.