Urinary incontinence is a common condition with aging, especially among women who have had children. Common actions such as coughing, sneezing, or laughing can lead to embarrassing involuntary losses of urine with incontinence. There are several underlying causes of incontinence according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM):
Qi Deficiency and Urinary Incontinence
In TCM the Kidneys "govern water", and are in charge of the metabolism of urination. Kidney Qi helps to hold the urine in the Bladder; therefore, Kidney Qi Deficiency could be the root cause of an urinary incontinence or an overactive bladder. With Spleen Qi Deficiency, symptoms could include:
- A feeling of bearing down
- Abdominal distention after eating
- Loose stools
Kidney Yin Deficiency and Urinary Incontinence
Bladder function and the Chinese medical Yin-Yang theory can also point to certain patterns of imbalance. The bladder’s ability to hold urine is a Yin function. With Kidney Yin Deficiency, the bladder will not be able to hold the urine with symptoms such as:
- Frequent or sudden urination or urgency incontinence
- Stress incontinence with a leakage of urine while lifting heavy objects, laughing, coughing, or sneezing
- Night sweats, low grade feverish feeling, dizziness, poor memory, nighttime urination, and dry mouth
Kidney Yang Deficiency and Urinary Incontinence
Yang Deficiency would be common with urinary problems associated with prostate issues, but is also seen in women. Urinary incontinence associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency would include symptoms such as:
- Clear urine
- Profuse pale urination
- Lower backache
- A feeling of coldness throughout the body
- Impotence and decreased libido
Liver Imbalances and Urinary Incontinence
In TCM, the Liver energetic organ system "governs the muscles and sinews" ; this means that the general function and health of the muscles are affected by Liver imbalances. Since muscles are involved with the ability to hold urine, an imbalance of the Liver can contribute to urinary incontinence or overactive bladder. Other signs of the Livers' involvement are indicated when the condition is worsened stressful situations or are accompanied by frustration or anger.
Lung Qi Deficiency and Incontinence
While not as common as the other patterns, Lung imbalances can be at the root of the cause of incontinence; here a couple of the reasons why:
- The Lungs and the Kidneys are closely interrelated in Chinese medicine, and an imbalance in one of the energetic organ systems can easily have an impact on the other.
- The Lung energetic organ system is central in the formation of Qi energy for the whole body, thus Spleen Qi Deficiency or Kidney Qi Deficiency could be related to Lung Deficiency.
You may notice incontinence occurring during asthma attacks or during coughing attacks with this pattern.
The most common type of incontinence among women is stress incontinence with symptoms of involuntarily leaking urine while exercising, coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting with the sudden pressure to the bladder causes urine to leak. While weaknesses due to childbirth to muscles that hold the bladder in place is the most common cause, a weakening of the bladder itself can also occur. Other causes of stress incontinence include:
- Nerve damage can be a result of or from treatment of gynecologic or pelvic cancers with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or can be due to diseases such as diabetes, stroke, Parkinson's disease and/or multiple sclerosis,
- Following menopause, a decrease in estrogen can weaken the sphincter muscle in women
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostate cancer or prostate surgery can lead to stress incontinence in men