Perhaps nothing can be more debilitating than incontinence. This condition where the pelvic muscles are too weak, which makes retaining fluids difficult, affects approximately 13 million Americans. It’s an extremely embarrassing situation, forcing sufferers to just stay at home. There is a ray of hope, however, for incontinent patients. A recent study conducted at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Services just found out that acupuncture could hold the key to treating the condition.
Researchers worked with 504 women who are suffering from stress incontinence and subjected them to a series of electroacupuncture sessions over a period of six weeks. The participants were given 18 sessions while another group was subjected to dummy needles. Results showed that those who received electroacupuncture showed a decrease in urine leakage for six months after the treatment. Women in the real test group experienced an average of one less episode every 72 hours after the end of the course. Six months later, these women reported that they further experienced reduction in their episodes.
Incontinence affects the urinary system. This happens when any part of the system malfunctions. There are several types of incontinence: stress, urge, mixed, overflow, and reflex incontinence. In some cases, incontinence from surgery can occur. Of the estimated 13 million Americans affected by the condition, 85 percent are women. The condition is also more common among the elderly. Half (or even more) of elderly people living at home or in long-term care facilities are incontinent. Aside from the obvious physical discomfort, it also causes emotional distress. Who wouldn’t? Incontinence puts you at risk of humiliation, which often leads to loss of self-esteem.
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Women are more likely to be affected because of childbirth. In some cases, obesity is another fact, which can exacerbate the problem.
Dr. Baoyan Liu, lead author of the study, said that electroacupuncture was just as good as pelvic floor training and that it took only half the time. “Electroacupuncture was effective with rapid response, short treatment period and good compliance.”
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique that stimulates specific points in the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. Studies have shown that this may help ease several types of pain like chronic back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. Acupuncture may also minimize the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. This is the most probable option for people suffering from chronic pain.
Interestingly, however, clinical practice guidelines are inconsistent so it’s quite challenging to recommend acupuncture. Studies on the effects of acupuncture on the mind and body are only beginning to be understood. Current findings suggest that some factors responsible for the beneficial effects of the practice — expectation and belief — may not be directly related to acupuncture.
Then there’s the question of the side effects of acupuncture. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health there are relatively few complications from using acupuncture that have been reported. If any, the complications were a result of using non-sterile needles and improper delivery of treatments, which can lead to serious adverse effects, like infections, collapsed lungs, punctured organs, and injury to the central nervous system.
Despite not having very concrete scientific proof about acupuncture’s effects on incontinence, the results obtained by Dr. Liu and his team are notable. The fact that they were able to successfully help a group of women improve their condition says a lot about the proven health benefits of this traditional Chinese treatment.
Although it takes around three months for patients to see and feel the results of electroacupuncture, this still provides a quicker and more effective way to keep women (and some men) to stop being afraid of getting out of the house.