Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control, ranging from occasional minor leaking when coughing or sneezing to sudden, strong urges that don’t allow time to get to a toilet. An embarrassing problem, urinary incontinence is actually very common. In women, it can occur following pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy, and menopause. In men, urinary incontinence may occur with problems or removal of the prostate gland. It can also be a result of aging or underlying medical conditions such as urinary tract infections, constipation, neurological disorders (Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, a brain tumor or a spinal injury.)
There are different types of urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when pressure or stress is exerted on the bladder by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy and is due to the sphincter muscle of the bladder being weak. Urge incontinence is a sudden, intense urge to urinate, followed by an involuntary loss of urine, often causing frequent urination. Urge incontinence may be caused by urinary tract infections, bladder irritants, bowel problems, neurological disorders or in some cases, the cause isn’t known. Overflow incontinence is an inability to empty the bladder causing frequent or constant dribbling. This type of incontinence may occur in people with a damaged bladder, blocked urethra or nerve damage.
In Chinese medicine, there are a number of factors that may lead to urinary incontinence. With urinary incontinence, there usually is an issue with the pelvic floor muscles being either too weak to stop the flow of urine, or too tense and unable to relax, causing them to give out suddenly. Conventional treatment may involve exercises to strengthen or retrain these muscles in order to improve functioning.
Acupuncture can also help to stimulate the muscles in order to strengthen them and encourage proper functioning, thereby improving urinary incontinence. However, an acupuncturist also takes the treatment one step further, to look at the underlying health factors in the body that may be causing these muscles to function poorly or improperly. This is particularly the case with chronic conditions or internal problems that take time to develop- an internal problem over time will lead to the development of outward symptoms. Urinary incontinence typically involves the body’s energy being weak or deficient in one of the meridian systems that are responsible for the body’s proper functions.
Lung-qi deficiency will involve frequent urge to urinate with inability to contain it, as well as dribbling when coughing or sneezing, and other symptoms of tiredness, shortness of breath, and weak voice. Spleen-qi deficiency involves incontinence with urgency, frequent urges and inability to contain it, as well as loose stools, tiredness, and poor appetite. Kidney-yang deficiency involves frequent urination, dribbling, exhaustion, dizziness, tinnitus, weak and sore back and knees, and feeling cold, and is often the case with incontinence in the elderly. Kidney-yin deficiency involves incontinence with dribbling after urination, dark urine, dry throat, dizziness, tinnitus, night sweats, and insomnia.
Acupuncture encourages healthy functioning of the body’s various systems, to ensure that all aspects of the urinary system are performing properly. Over a series of treatments, this allows us to not only treat the symptoms of urinary incontinence, but also correct the underlying factors that are causing this problem. In addition, other symptoms such as sleep, energy, and digestion may also improve, as these are common outward expressions of internal imbalances that we often don’t realize are related. In this way, acupuncture can have a very positive impact on overall quality of life.
Lifestyle habits that can help with an incontinence problem involve avoiding alcohol, caffeine or other diuretics, as well as carbonated drinks, very spicy, sugary, or acidic foods, artificial sweeteners, and corn syrup, all of which can aggravate the bladder. Certain medications including those for heart, blood pressure or muscle relaxants can also contribute to bladder problems.