Anita Conerly at UTMB Health

Don’t hide because of overactive bladder

Playing mahjong every week grew more awkward for Anita Conerly each time. The more often she had to leave the game table because of her overactive bladder, the more often her friends watched her hurry to a bathroom several times during a game.

“It’s embarrassing,” Conerly said.

Simple daily errands started to become obstacles for Conerly, a 74-year-old retired teacher who lives in League City. She would be in a store and have the urge to go. As she started to take a step, her bladder would begin to lose control. She started to stay home more often. She limited how much liquids she drank. She bought the pads.

“You wear pads— It’s what you do,” she said. “If you don’t, you’ll get embarrassed. You lose confidence.”

She saw doctors and took a lot of medication over the years. It would help her overactive bladder for a while, then each medication would stop working after a few months. Eventually, another doctor suggested a different option—a sacral nerve modulation procedure.

The procedure helps the problem of the bladder being overactive and causing that urge to go and urinary incontinence. In the operating room, a doctor attaches electrical leads next to the sacral nerve to help improve those symptoms. A device similar to a pacemaker powers the electrical stimulation to the nerve.

The procedure improved Conerly’s quality of life for a while. Then, the leads migrated from where they were supposed to be. Conerly again struggled with her overactive bladder and went to a doctor.

Dr. Elisha Jackson consulting a patient

It’s not always fun or easy to talk about an overactive bladder with a new doctor, but Conerly found Dr. Elisha Jackson, a urogynecologist at UTMB Health, and felt seen and heard.

“Dr. Jackson is very open and sincere,” Conerly said. “She makes you realize that she really listens. I want to feel like a valuable patient and a wanted patient, and she made me feel that.”

An X-ray revealed that the leads were no longer near the sacral nerve. Jackson removed the migrated leads and replaced them with new ones. Conerly regained control of her bladder. Now, she can adjust the programs and stimulation with her smart phone. The battery on the implanted device will last about 10 years.

“It makes life easier,” Conerly said. “It’s so much better than what it used to be.”

Jackson stressed that the initial procedure went well. “The first doctor did a great job with the initial placement,” she said. Over time, leads sometimes can migrate, and in Conerly’s case, Jackson knew how to help.

Now that her bladder is no longer overactive, Conerly has returned to her familiar routines. She’s active in her church. She visits friends and shops at any store she likes. She still plays mahjong with her friends.

Conerly encourages other women with overactive bladders who are hiding at home and not drinking enough water to talk to a urogynecologist.

“It’s like something you think you should keep secret,” she said. “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s nothing you are doing wrong. It can be fixed.”

Hannah O'Donohoe, MD

Dr. Elisha Jackson, a urogynecologist at UTMB Health.

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