Acupuncture for Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence, the involuntary passing of urine, is quite a common problem; it is estimated that four adults in every 100 suffer from it to some degree; it can occur at any age, but is often associated with ageing. It is often a particularly distressing and embarrassing problem. For some people it means a small dribble of urine escapes them now and again; for others it can be a large flood. Western medicine differentiates two main types of incontinence:
Stress incontinence occurs when the outlet of the bladder allows urine to leak out, often when we laugh or cough, or during exercise. This usually occurs because the pelvic floor muscles, which help keep the outlet closed, are weakened, something which can happen with age, due to being overweight, or in women as a result of childbirth.
Urge incontinence is when the bladder contract prematurely, producing a sudden urge to pass urine. In most cases it is not known why this happens.
Conventional treatment may include exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, bladder training, lifestyle changes such as changing the amount of fluid drunk, or weight loss, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Urinary Incontinence and TCM
One of the functions of Qi is to hold, contain and raise, so that incontinence usually points towards a deficiency of Qi. This is why incontinence can often appear in old age, as the Qi naturally begins to decline as we get older, so that a pre-existing weakness is exacerbated. Similarly the draining effect of a number of childbirths may cause a temporary deficiency in the Qi which may manifest as incontinence.
TCM treatment begins by first understanding why there is Qi deficiency and how this manifests in the individual. The holistic understanding TCM has of the human being means that this deficiency in the ability of the Qi to hold the urine in may be seen to relate to a weakness of the digestive system, the lungs, or of the kidneys. For instance, someone who has urinary incontinence but also suffers from shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, or perhaps has just a noticeably quiet voice and a pale face, is manifesting symptoms of a deficiency of the lung Qi. Acupuncture treatment to reinforce the Qi of the bladder and of the lungs, perhaps supported by Chi Kung exercises for the lungs, will strengthen the Qi and help resolve the incontinence.
Each patient is unique, so TCM treatment is always personalised to the individual. Our thorough initial consultation enables us to understand clearly why there is incontinence and how best to resolve it.
Is acupuncture helpful for urinary incontinence?
A randomised controlled trial1 of the use of acupuncture to treat urge incontinence and overactive bladder found significant improvements in bladder capacity, urgency, frequency of urination and quality of life. Two to four weeks after only a short course of four acupuncture treatments, the number of incontinent episodes was reduced by 59%.
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1. Emmons SL & Otto L (2005) Acupuncture for Overactive Bladder: A Randomized Controlled Trial Obstet Gynecol 106: 138-143