A little while ago I spoke at the Continence Foundation of Australia conference at the Hilton Hotel, Adelaide about acupuncture and its role in treating Urinary Incontinence. It was well received by GP’s, Urologists, Physiotherapists and Continence Nurses. It’s a condition I’ve been treating for a while now with promising results. For some patients the treatment has been life changing. What concerns me is that 70% of sufferers do not seek medical advice for it (1). They suffer in silence - perhaps they are embarrassed, or maybe they don’t know there are treatment options out there for them.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Stress urinary incontinence is when involuntary urination occurs when sneezing, coughing, laughing, running, jumping or lifting.
Urge urinary incontinence is when the bladder muscle (detrusor muscle) contracts and causes the urge to urinate even if there isn't much urine in the bladder. Sufferers will need to go to the toilet NOW but often don't make it to the loo without leakage. Frequent urination is very common. These people know where every toilet is between home and work. Long distance driving holidays are a thing of the past and forget about going to a public event where toilet waiting times are high (especially for females). It is a very disruptive and stressful condition.
Overactive Bladder is similar to urge incontinence where the detrusor muscle contracts more often than normal causing a sudden urge to urinate. The difference is that there may not be any urinary leakage but in some cases there is. It is also common for people to have mixed incontinence (stress incontinence and overactive bladder).
Is Urinary Incontinence common?
Urinary Incontinence (UI) is very common during pregnancy and can linger postpartum for months or years.
In the general population, 13% of men and 37% of women in Australia suffer from UI.
Who should you see first?
My suggestion is that if you or someone you know has UI and you want to do something about it then seek medical advice from your GP. You may need to see a Urologist to assess the severity.
A drug-free option is Acupuncture.
Typically I would see someone twice a week for about 6 weeks (or once a week for 12 weeks) for electro-acupuncture treatment. After a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis is made, needles are placed along the legs, lower abdomen, wrists and even the head. A comfortable electrical current is used on the points in the leg or sacral region for about 20 minutes. By the end of the 12 treatments I would expect some positive change such as less frequent urination and less episodes of incontinence.
It is likely that maintenance appointments would be needed every 4-6 weeks. You may even combine acupuncture treatment with physiotherapy which has also been shown to help with Urinary Incontinence. I recommend Ivory Rose Physiotherapy and Pivotal Physiotherapy and Pilates.
How does the acupuncture work for Urinary Incontinence?
Electro-Acupuncture works by indirectly providing electrical stimulation to the nerves responsible for bladder and pelvic floor function. *don't worry, it's not painful*. In this case we stimulate the posterior tibial nerve which affects the sacral plexus which modulates bladder function.
What are the standard treatment options?
If you are diagnosed with some form of urinary incontinence or overactive bladder then there are several ways of treating it:
Behavioural Interventions such as: pelvic floor exercises; weight management; scheduling regular toilet trips; wearing absorbent pads or bladder training.
Medications that can relax an overactive bladder and reducing incidences of urge incontinence
Botox injections directly into the bladder for severe urge incontinence
Surgery in severe cases
Can diet affect the bladder?
Yes there can be dietary factors to look at too. One common source of bladder irritation is coffee. Yeah I know it's hard to imagine life without coffee. But it's worth going without it for a few days to see if there's a difference. Some patients of mine have found that by eliminating coffee they have less urinary frequency and urgency. This doesn't mean you won't have coffee ever again but if you do be prepared for the consequences that day.
Other common bladder irritants include: alcohol, carbonated drinks, fruit juices, citrus fruit, tomatoes, sugar and artificial sweeteners, spicy foods, too much or too little water.
If you would like to see some research in this area I would suggest you look at this and this (Percaneous Tibial Nerve Stimulation aka Electroacupuncture).
Acupuncture in Adelaide
Modern Acupuncture is located in Frewville in the Eastern suburbs of Adelaide. Contact us here.
You can book online too