acupuncture, urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is an embarrassing problem. No one wants to leak urine and wet their underwear, whether the problem is stress incontinence or urge incontinence. In stress incontinence, women may leak small amounts of urine when they cough, sneeze, jump or lift something heavy. Urge incontinence, on the other hand, is signaled by a sudden urge to urinate. The sufferer may not be able to get to a restroom in time. Some men who have been treated for prostate cancer with surgery or radiation suffer urinary incontinence as a result.

Unexpected Help for Urinary Incontinence:

A new study in JAMA suggests that electroacupuncture on the lower back can help women who experience stress urinary incontinence. The researchers randomly assigned 504 women to receive true electroacupuncture or sham electroacupuncture. For the sham treatment, the scientists utilized sham acupuncture points and did not pierce the skin with the equipment.

They measured urinary leakage by weighing a pad left in place for one hour. The investigators also asked the women to report how many episodes they experienced in 72 hours (three days).

Lumbosacral Electroacupuncture for Urinary Incontinence:

After six weeks of treatment, women getting the electroacupuncture leaked significantly less urine than those in the control group. They also reported fewer episodes of incontinence. The investigators suggest further research to determine long-term outcomes and to clarify the mechanism. At this point, no one knows exactly how acupuncture helps this condition.

Liu et al, JAMA June 27, 2017 

Acupuncture Did Not Help Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome:

Acupuncture does not work for every problem. In the same issue of JAMA, a different research team reports on its study of acupuncture as an infertility treatment for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (Wu et al, JAMA, June 27, 2017). PCOS is an endocrinological disorder associated with infertility and metabolic disruption.

The investigators recruited 1000 women with PCOS and randomly assigned them to receive either the fertility drug clomiphene or placebo and either active acupuncture or sham acupuncture as a control. Those who received clomiphene were significantly more likely to have a baby than those receiving placebo. Acupuncture had no effect.

An editorial accompanying these articles characterizes both studies as carefully done. It also offers some hypotheses about possible physiological and neurobiological explanations for the effects of acupuncture.

The editorial author, Josephine P. Briggs, MD, concludes:

“These studies shed new light on when and when not to consider using acupuncture, although why and how this procedure may work require further study. Clearly these ancient practices are helping reveal the complexity of the links between the mind and the body.”

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  1. Ann

    I went for acupuncture. So I was sitting on a stool and the doctor said he would be back in a few minutes. Fairly quickly I felt very relaxed, then very tired and sleepy. My head was hanging down and I could hardly stay awake. He came in and PANIC CITY. I fell off the stool and into his arms as he was pulling me off the stool, then he stood me up, slapped my hands and face, got me into the hallway and made me walk, dragging me when I couldn’t walk, shouting at me until I finally came to. We went back into the treatment room. He told me never to have acupuncture again. He said my blood pressure had fallen very low, dangerously low and it’s a good thing he came back when he did. Anybody know anything about this. I don’t understand the correlation between acupuncture and blood pressure.

  2. Jampot

    What is “electroacupuncture”? I’m familiar with ordinary acupuncture but this term is new to me (and maybe other readers?) and a definition would be helpful. Thank you for a good article.

    • Terry Graedon

      In electroacupuncture, a mild electric current is run through the needles.

  3. Acupunk

    It seems to me that having a MD tell me if acupuncture works or not is a bit of a stretch. We acupuncturists know that acupuncture does not work for every problem. We also know that acupuncture has very few side effects and just maybe the patient might get some help in other areas. I think if everyone in the health care profession could be honest then the world would be a better place.

  4. Gloria
    Washington State

    I believe acupuncture could help, however, I do know that a chiropractic adjustment to the sacral area do help. I had a short period of “overactive bladder” a number of years ago. I mentioned to my chiropractor, after his adjustment that day, the “overactive bladder” corrected. I’m sure there are other things that could cause it, but it might be worth having a chiropractic adjustment.

  5. Enid

    Currently receiving weekly neuromodulation for overactive bladder. An acupuncture needle is inserted into a nerve in the lower leg and an electrode is attached for 30 minute sessions once a week. The nerve is part of a complex terminating in the sacral plexus.

    Sounds like what your article describes.

  6. cpmt

    I had uncontrollable incontinence for a few months without warning. It was embarrassing to run to the bathroom and not making it. Finally my endocrinologist, told me to increase my insulin (I am diabetic) and it immediately stopped. I am ok/good for now.

  7. Dorothy F.

    If this would stop my having to wear a pad all the time, I would RUN to get it. I have a terrible problem of just “going” without warning and not being able to stop or hold it. This just sounds like a “miracle”.

  8. Gerry

    My stress incontinence increased significantly after I broke my leg and was in hospital with a catheter for 3 weeks. I also have to visit the bathroom at night much more often than before, which was once, now 3 or 4 times. Previously had slight stress incontinence for many years after childbirth. However I’m 80 now, so just glad other things still working properly, basically very healthy.

  9. Beth
    San Diego

    I had a problem urinating properly. I would go very little and often. I went to see a doctor specializing in urinating problems, and they suggested acupuncture, but it was in my ankle, not my back. I had to go 12 weeks, which I just finished. I now go once a month starting in July. So far I have had no problem urinating. We shall see how the once a month works.

  10. David
    North Carolina

    Why does must info on incontinence present it like it’s only women with incontinence? Thanks to a doctor, after having a TURP, I have been incontinent for the past 18 months.

  11. LS

    For months, I had been seeing a urologist for recurring bladder infections. We tried everything with no relief. Then, my urologist asked me what I thought about acupuncture. I said I would give it a try. I had several treatments. It has been over a year now with no infections. It worked great for me. LS

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