What is Incontinence and How Can Acupuncture Help?
According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, incontinence refers to any involuntary or accidental loss of bowel motion (faecal incontinence) or loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence).
Contrary to popular opinion, incontinence does not necessarily involve the complete loss of bowel and bladder control – it can be just a small leak. In fact, it’s approximated that nearly 5 million Australians are living with incontinence. While these numbers might cast a shadow of dread over your health, we have good news; Incontinence can be managed and treated. This article aims to answer questions related to incontinence and provide possible solutions for your wellbeing.
What are the Causes of Incontinence?
There are many possible causes of incontinence. Since urinary and bowel incontinence have different possible causes, it is essential to separate them for a better understanding of the condition. Faecal incontinence is associated with the following causes:
- Severe diarrhoea
- Weakened muscles due to radiation therapy, surgery, childbirth, or getting older.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report, Faecal incontinence is more common among men (20% of the Australian population) than women (12.9%). It’s one of the leading reasons for admittance into nursing homes.
What are the causes of urinary incontinence? In contrast to faecal incontinence, the prevalence of urinary incontinence is higher among women (37%) than men (13%). Poor bladder control is often associated with a wide range of causes such as chronic conditions (arthritis, diabetes, asthma etc.), menopause, childbirth, pregnancy, prostate surgery, damaged nerves, and some medication. Depending on the causative agents, there are different types of urinary incontinence as shown below:
- Functional incontinence – Environmental, intellectual, and physical issues that contribute to incontinence in an individual with normal bladder function.
- Stress incontinence – Leakage due to stress-inducing activities such as lifting, laughing, sneezing etc
- Urge incontinence – Strong and urgent need to urinate due to an overactive bladder
- Chronic Retention – The frequent leakage of urine due to the inability of the bladder to empty properly
What are the Symptoms of Incontinence?
We have compiled a list of questions associated with symptoms of incontinence to help understand the condition.
- Do you occasionally soil your underwear?
- Is the location of the nearest toilet a priority in your daily routine?
- Do you have trouble emptying your bowel?
- Have you ever leaked while laughing, coughing, sneezing, or lifting a heavy object?
- Do you frequently get nervous due to the thought of losing bowel or bladder control?
- Do you wake up more than twice a night to go to the bathroom?
- Do you feel that your urine stream is slow or weak?
- Do you experience little to no warning when you need to go to the toilet?
How is Incontinence Diagnosed?
Have you experienced some of the symptoms highlighted above? Are you wondering whether you should seek medical attention? It is approximated that 70% of Australians with urinary incontinence are reluctant to seek help for their problem. Do not be another statistic – visit a medical facility as soon as possible and get diagnosed.
Diagnosis involves the collection of information about your physical characteristics and medical history to determine the type of incontinence. Medical practitioners may also recommend a urinalysis, a bladder diary (personal record of your episodes), or pelvic ultrasounds if more information is needed.
How is Incontinence Treated?
Conventional treatment of incontinence largely depends on the underlying cause, severity, and characteristics of the condition. Possible procedures include:
- Behavioural techniques
- Catheters and absorbent pads
- Medication – Topical oestrogen, Alpha blockers, Anticholinergics
- Medical devices to plug and prevent leakages.
- Interventional therapies such as nerve stimulators and Botox injections
How may Acupuncture Help with Incontinence?
Expanding awareness of the financial cost and unwanted side effects of conventional treatments has motivated patients to seek acupuncture as an alternative treatment. Traditional acupuncture is an increasingly popular and safe treatment method. Acupuncture has been shown to treat and alleviate symptoms of incontinence and other related health conditions by targeting specific acupoints in the lower abdomen.
In a recent Clinical Study (1) appearing in the Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, the authors concluded that “Herbal cake moxibustion plus acupuncture is an effective way to treat post-stroke urinary incontinence.” Similarly, a group of Italian and Swedish researchers acknowledged the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of urinary bladder problems and launched a study (2) to determine the effect of acupuncture on faecal incontinence. The results of the study showed that patients experienced a “significant improvement in anal incontinence.”
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- Xia, Y., Wen, Q., Sun, B., Jiang, P., & Lou, B. D. (2018). Clinical Study on Herbal Cake Moxibustion plus Acupuncture for Treatment of Post-stroke Urinary Incontinence. Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 37(1), 24-27.
- Scaglia, M., Delaini, G., Destefano, I., & Hultén, L. (2009). Faecal incontinence treated with acupuncture-a pilot study. Autonomic Neuroscience, 145(1-2), 89-92.