Incontinence according to Chinese Medicine

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Incontinence can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like incontinence here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here incontinence is often associated with frequent urination, lower back pain and tiredness in the pattern “Kidney Yang Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause incontinence.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of incontinence we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat incontinence.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause incontinence

In Chinese Medicine incontinence is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

Kidney Yang Deficiency causes Internal Cold and weakness.

In addition to incontinence, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency include frequent urination, lower back pain and tiredness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Yang Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation, Menopausal Syndrome or Irregular Menstruation.

Kidney Yang Deficiency is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

Milkvetch Roots (Huang Qi) is the king ingredient for Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a formula used for Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking

Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

In a Qi Collapsing (also called 'Sinking Qi') situation, a weakened Qi is unable to perform its holding function, resulting in a prolapse of the Organs. This condition mostly applies to the Qi of the Spleen.

In addition to incontinence, other symptoms associated with Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking include frequent urination, diarrhea and tiredness.

Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking is often treated with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner)".

Read more about Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking here

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Bladder Deficiency with Cold

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to incontinence, other symptoms associated with Bladder Deficiency with Cold include frequent urination, lower back pain and disorientation.

Bladder Deficiency with Cold is often treated with Sang Piao Xiao San, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Praying Mantis Egg-Cases - Sang Piao Shao - as a key herb). Sang Piao Xiao San belongs to the category of "formulas that secure essence and stop enuresis", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates and tonifies the Heart and Kidneys".

Read more about Bladder Deficiency with Cold here

Four herbal formulas that might help with incontinence

Er Xian Tang

Source date: 1950 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and tonifies Yang of the Kidneys. Clears Empty Heat. Regulates the Directing and Penetrating Vessels.

Why might Er Xian Tang help with incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yang Deficiency' of which incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Yang Deficiency include frequent urination, lower back pain and tiredness.

Read more about Er Xian Tang here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking' of which incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Collapsing Or Qi Sinking include frequent urination, diarrhea and tiredness.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

Sang Piao Xiao San

Source date: 1116 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Regulates and tonifies the Heart and Kidneys. Stabilizes the Essence. Stops leakage.

Why might Sang Piao Xiao San help with incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Bladder Deficiency with Cold' of which incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Bladder Deficiency With Cold include frequent urination, lower back pain and disorientation.

Read more about Sang Piao Xiao San here

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Why might You Gui Wan help with incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yang Deficiency' of which incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Yang Deficiency include frequent urination, lower back pain and tiredness.

Read more about You Gui Wan here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat incontinence

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with incontinence?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat incontinence as a symptom, like Er Xian Tang or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Yam (Shan Yao) help with incontinence?

Because Yam is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat incontinence as a symptom, like You Gui Wan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Yam is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach. Tonifies the Lung Qi and nourishes the Lung Yin. Nourishes the Kidneys and consolidates Jing.

Read more about Yam here

Why might Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with incontinence?

Because Cinnamon Twig is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat incontinence as a symptom, like Shen Qi Wan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Cinnamon Twigs is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Adjusts the nutritive Ying and defensive Wei Qi. Relieves the Exterior through sweating. Warms and disperses Cold. Removes obstruction of Yang. Promotes the circulation of Yang Qi in the chest. Regulates and moves blood.

Read more about Cinnamon Twigs here

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with incontinence?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat incontinence as a symptom, like Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang or Sang Piao Xiao San for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with incontinence?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat incontinence as a symptom, like You Gui Wan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here