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Sacral nerve stimulation may aid female sexual dysfunction



Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) is a therapeutic procedure that could be used to help women with sexual dysfunction. However, the benefits of this method in this indication should still be reviewed in high-quality studies with sexual function as the primary endpoint, Erik Allemeyer, MD, PhD, a proctologist at the Niels Stensen Clinics in Georgsmarienhütte, Germany, and colleagues wrote in a recent journal article.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality. There are extensive investigations that verify the considerable importance of sexual function on a person’s quality of life. It therefore follows that therapy may be required if an individual is experiencing sexual dysfunction.

According to the authors, there are diverse data on the frequency of sexual dysfunction in women, in part because of heterogeneous definitions. The prevalence ranges between 26% and 91%. The estimated prevalence of orgasm difficulties in particular ranges from 16% to 25%. Sexual dysfunction can therefore be said to be a clinically significant problem.

It was recently discovered that SNS, which has only been used for other conditions so far, could also be an option for women with sexual dysfunction. According to Dr. Allemeyer and coauthors, SNS was first described in 1988 as a therapeutic alternative for patients with neurogenic bladder and has been approved in Europe since 1994. As a minimally invasive therapy for urge incontinence, idiopathic pelvic pain, and for nonobstructive urinary retention, SNS can now be used to treat a wide spectrum of conditions in urology and urogynecology. After the successful stimulation treatment of fecal incontinence was first described in 1995, the procedure has also been used in coloproctology.

Tested before implantation

In SNS, sacral nerve roots (S3 and S4) are permanently stimulated via a percutaneously implanted electrode. At first, the effect is reviewed using a test electrode and an external impulse generator over a period of a few weeks. Only if the test stimulation significantly alleviates symptoms can the indication for full implantation be issued, wrote the authors.

The positive effects on sexual function could be seen, even in the early years of stimulation therapy, when it was used for urinary and fecal incontinence as well as for idiopathic pelvic pain, they added. They have now summarized and discussed the current state of research on the potential effects of SNS on women’s sexual function in a literature review.

Systematic study analysis

To do this, they analyzed 16 studies, which included a total of 662 women, that reviewed the effect of SNS on sexual function when the treatment was being used in other indications. The overwhelming majority of data relates to urologic indications for SNS (such as overactive bladder, chronic retention, and idiopathic pelvic pain). In contrast, the SNS indication was rarely issued for fecal incontinence (9.1% of SNS indications or 61 patients). The most often used tool to assess the effect is the validated Female Sexual Function Index. The indicators covered in this index are “desire,” “arousal,” “lubrication,” “orgasm,” and “satisfaction.”

According to Dr. Allemeyer and coauthors, the analysis revealed evidence of significantly improved sexual function. It was unclear, however, whether this improvement was a primary or secondary effect of the SNS. All the original works and reviews expressly indicated that there was no proof of a primary effect of SNS on sexual function.

The mode of action of SNS and the immediate anatomic and physiologic link between the functions of urination, urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, fecal incontinence, and sexual function suggest a possible primary effect of SNS on sexual function, wrote the authors. However, no investigations use sexual function as the primary outcome parameter of SNS. This outcome should be reviewed in high-quality studies with sexual function as the primary endpoint.

An experimental therapy

According to Dr. Allemeyer and colleagues, two practical conclusions can be drawn from the study data available to date:

A possible primary effect of SNS on sexual function should be reviewed in high-quality, prospective studies that include detailed analyses of the different aspects of sexual dysfunction in both sexes.

An offer for trial-based SNS for sexual dysfunction should be made only at experienced sites with a multidisciplinary team of sex therapists and medical specialists and only after available therapy options have been exhausted and initially only within systematic studies.

This article was translated from Univadis Germany and a version appeared on

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