Underactive bladder, as defined by the International Children’s Continence Society (ICCS; impaired detrusor contractility that leads to low voiding frequency (<3 voids/day), hesitancy, incomplete bladder emptying, and high post-void residual urine volumes (PVRs) that may produce UTI and urinary incontinence) has been a vexing problem for many paediatric providers to manage.
Antimuscarinic and α-agonist drugs have not proven effective to warrant their recommendation, and urotherapy, which demystifies the condition and tries to teach children to void often, take the time to urinate, use correct posture, and promote dietary habits that seem to adjudicate fluid intake, resulting in appropriate urine production and regular bowel movements, have not fully solved the problems in all patients. More invasive therapies, i.e., percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, intravesical electrical stimulation, and sacral neuromodulation provide some improvement in mollifying symptoms but long-term responses do not seem to be sustainable. Intermittent catheterisation, which immediately achieves bladder emptying on a timely schedule, is often a therapy that children and their parents prefer to avoid. All these management options with their varying responses have left patients resigned as their symptoms persist and their parents frustrated.
Kajbafzadeh et al. , in a study reported in this issue of the Journal, have clearly shown the value and potential promise of interferential electrical stimulation (IFES) for non-neuropathic underactive bladder in children. IFES changes bladder dynamics so that urinary frequency, bladder contractility, and PVRs improve to the extent that incontinence, both daytime and night-time, as well as UTIs, resolve. Although it is time consuming, as one would expect all therapies that reverse pathological processes might be, the promise that long-term responses remain salient is a testament to its worthiness. As a reference, Kajbafzadeh et al.  recently published similar responses in a randomised clinical trial of children with primary monosymptomatic enuresis, using standard urotherapy (as used in this current study ) with and without IFES, which revealed statistically significant improvement in enuretic episodes, both initially and after 1 year in those children treated with IFES. In a previous randomly allocated report of 30 children with myelomeningocele and detrusor overactivity, IFES was substantially effective in 20 vs 10 who were ‘sham controlled’ .
The authors  do indicate deficiencies in their study, the most glaring of which is the absence of a ‘sham’ group of children who should have ‘received’ IFES treatment without any actual ES. In clinical practice this is almost impossible to achieve. Long-term urodynamic data would also have been helpful in solidifying these responses when compared to pre-treatment investigations but again having families assent to a study that involves catheterising their child for this purpose is nearly impossible.
The authors did not comment on the improvement in bowel function these children may experience in the immediate period after treatment or in the long-term, but given the emphasis on better toileting it is presumed lower gastrointestinal function would have been helped as well. In addition, the authors  have left us wondering if these improved toileting habits changed the propensity towards UTIs over time. Nor have they expressed any improvement in behavioural issues as a result of this programme, or what effect, if any, has occurred regarding school performance and social interaction. It is now up to these pioneers, as well as future investigators, to lead the way to engage a child’s entire milieu and his family responses, to the acceptability of this treatment programme. Looking beyond just the immediacy of an IFES regimen and its effects on the urinary and gastrointestinal systems will surely tell us if this management schema truly has large scale merit for a wider cohort. That kind of communication would surely be an impetus for scientifically minded clinicians to delve into the ‘whys’ of its positive pathophysiological effects.
I commend the authors for their exceptional work and desire to find an effective, minimally invasive treatment that has long-term sustainability. The gauntlet has been dropped, only to be picked up by others (or these same providers) to address and answer the additional concerns and questions posed by this editorial.