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June 17, 2014

Some patients finding quick relief for an urgent — and common — issue

TERRE HAUTE — It’s probably not a subject you’ll want to talk about over breakfast, but for millions of Americans, it’s a big part of life.

Urinary incontinence is an involuntary loss of bladder control. It affects about 200 million people worldwide and, according to experts, about 25 million Americans suffer from the problem, according to the National Association for Continence.

Ruth Yonce of Paris, Ill., is one of those millions suffering from overactive bladder. And she’s not alone, even among a group of friends back in Paris.

Now Yonce, 76, is trying a relatively new, drug-free treatment for overactive bladder that involves sending tiny electronic impulses into her ankle, stimulating nerves that control bladder function. This treatment, under the brand name Urgent PC, lasts 30 minutes and is administered once a week for up to 12 weeks. Tuesday was Yonce’s sixth treatment.

“It’s a wonderful improvement,” Yonce said seated in a large, comfortable recliner at UAP Clinic in Terre Haute. “I can already tell there’s a change.”

Another problem for people suffering from overactive bladder is that they cannot sleep through the night without frequent trips to the bathroom. For Yonce, getting a solid night of sleep was virtually a thing of the past. Now, she said, she has experienced many nights with just one or two trips and even had a few nights without a single trip to the bathroom.

“It was wonderful,” she said.

Melissa Thomas, a nurse practitioner, has been administering the new treatment to Yonce and a handful of other patients at UAP Clinic since it became available there about a month ago. On Tuesday, she slipped a tiny needle into Yonce’s ankle and then slowly increased the electronic impulses using a small control device attached to the needle through an electronic wire.

“You don’t even feel the needle going in you,” Yonce said as Thomas gradually increased the electronic impulses. “I was surprised that it was so easy.”

Medicare will pay for the new treatment only after patients have failed to get relief through older methods, Thomas said. Those other treatments include simple behavior modification – such as not drinking so much before bed – and medications. For Yonce, the medication didn’t work well and had side effects.

Medicare will also cover only the final six treatments if a patient shows improvement after the first six. Yonce kept a record of incidents showing she was improving, meaning Medicare will cover her final treatments, Thomas said.

Overactive bladder and other forms of incontinence can really strangle someone’s quality of life, Thomas said. Often patients are ashamed of the problem and become fearful of leaving their homes, she said. “They become hermits.”

Yonce has definitely not allowed herself to become a hermit, despite struggling with the problem for several decades. Nor is she afraid to talk about the subject. A former factory worker, cashier, school secretary and Dairy Queen owner with husband Bob in Paris, Yonce believes she has been blessed and wants to share her story if it will help others with the same problem.

Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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