Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been treating urinary symptoms such as overactive bladder for more than 2,000 years. Acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs potentially offer an alternative to the treatment of not only the symptoms of overactive bladder, but possibly the root cause as well. Rather than looking at the body to find the particular tissue, muscle, or organ that is unhealthy or diseased, Chinese medicine sees the body as a whole and promotes the idea that a symptom can come from an imbalance in the interaction between the tissue, muscle, and organ systems. Once the imbalance is corrected, the root of the problem is improved, and the body can work to heal itself.
In TCM, there are 12 major meridians that correspond to the organ systems. These meridians are lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, triple burner, gallbladder, and liver. Keep in mind that while the organ names and some functions are similar, if not the same, in both TCM and Western medicine, an imbalance of the TCM organ does not necessarily translate to a disease in the Western medicine organ.
Overactive bladder has quite a few translations in TCM. The root of these imbalances can stem from the lungs, heart, spleen, bladder, kidneys, or liver and, more often than not, from a combination of two or more of these organ systems.
In TCM the kidneys "govern water", meaning that the kidneys are in charge of the metabolism of water and urination, and the kidneys also filter urine, which is the same in Western medicine. Different from Western medicine, the kidneys’ energy, or “qi” (pronounced "chee"), plays a role in holding the urine in the bladder. Subsequently, a deficiency of kidney qi could be the root cause of an overactive bladder. If the lung and spleen qi are deficient, signs that may be related to overactive bladder include a feeling of bearing down, incontinence, labored breathing, slight abdominal distention after eating, and loose stool.
Other functions of the organs can be described with the Chinese concepts of “yin” and “yang”. The bladder’s ability to hold urine is a yin function. When there is deficient kidney yin, the bladder will not be able to hold the urine, leading to symptoms such as frequent and sudden urination or urgency incontinence. Deficient kidney yin can also be linked to stress incontinence, where there is a leakage of urine while laughing, coughing, or sneezing. In TCM, these common symptoms of incontinence that are related to insufficient kidney yin can be accompanied by night sweats, dizziness, poor memory, nighttime urination, and dry mouth. Kidney yang deficiency symptoms of overactive bladder can be associated with nighttime urination, abundant pale urination, lower backache, a feeling of coldness throughout the body, impotence, and decreased libido.
The liver "governs the muscles and sinews" in Chinese medicine, which means that the general function and health of the muscles are affected by the energetics of the liver. Since muscles are involved with the ability to hold urine, an imbalance in the liver can be a root cause of overactive bladder. Other signs of the livers' involvement are when the condition is worse with stress or anger.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs focus on correcting the root of the body's imbalance rather that just treating the symptoms. A well-trained acupuncturist will use specific points on the body to stimulate kidney yin, kidney yang, qi deficiency, and overall balance between the organ systems. The treatments are usually once or twice per week for 10-12 sessions. Treatment may result in an increase in the ability to hold urine, a decrease in the number of nighttime urinations, a decrease of urgency, and a creation of a smoother flow of urine. Of course, it is not limited to just these benefits. A trained Chinese herbologist may also give an herbal formula to enhance these functions and aid in the acupuncture treatments. Side effects come from Chinese herbs, the most common of which is an upset stomach, which can often be remedied by taking the herbs with food.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs are an alternative and holistic approach to treating an overactive bladder. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help your overactive bladder, please contact a licensed practitioner in your area.