Urinary incontinence according to Chinese Medicine

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Urinary 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 urinary 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 urinary incontinence is often associated with premature ejaculation, frequent urination and feeling of cold in the pattern “Kidney Qi not Firm”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause urinary incontinence.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of urinary incontinence we’ve identified five 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 urinary incontinence.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause urinary incontinence

In Chinese Medicine urinary incontinence is a symptom for 5 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 Qi not Firm

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

Tongue color: Pale

Kidney Qi not Firm means Kidney Qi Deficiency. Two characteristics are typical in this pattern. Firstly, it is a type of Kidney Yang Deficiency with the associated Cold symptoms. Secondly, it is a type of sinking of Kidneys Qi, thus with many ‘leaking’ downwards symptoms.

In addition to urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Kidney Qi not Firm include premature ejaculation, frequent urination and feeling of cold.

Kidney Qi not Firm is often treated with You Gui Wan, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). You Gui Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm yang and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang".

Read more about Kidney Qi not Firm here

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

Bladder Deficient and Cold

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

In addition to urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Bladder Deficient and Cold include dizziness, frequent urination and feeling of cold.

Bladder Deficient and 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 Deficient and Cold here

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

Damp-Heat in the Bladder

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

In addition to urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat in the Bladder include burning urination, dark urine and blood in urine.

Damp-Heat in the Bladder is often treated with Ba Zheng San, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Chinese Pink Herbs - Qu Mai - as a key herb). Ba Zheng San belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat and expel dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Heat and Fire".

Read more about Damp-Heat in the Bladder 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), Weak (Ruo)

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 urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking include dizziness, tinnitus and loose stools.

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

Phlegm in Kidneys or Gallbladder

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

According to Chinese medicine, gallstones or kidney stones are a form of Phlegm.

In addition to urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Phlegm in Kidneys or Gallbladder include back pain, gallstones and kidney stones.

Phlegm in Kidneys or Gallbladder is often treated with Si Ni San, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Si Ni San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Phlegm in Kidneys or Gallbladder here

Five herbal formulas that might help with urinary incontinence

Fu Tu Dan

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Stabilizes the Kidney Qi. Strengthens the Spleen. Stops leakage.

Why might Fu Tu Dan help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Qi not Firm' of which urinary incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Qi Not Firm include premature ejaculation, frequent urination and feeling of cold.

Read more about Fu Tu Dan here

Suo Quan Wan

Source date: 1227 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Kidneys. Dispels cold. Reduces urinary frequency. Stops leakage.

Why might Suo Quan Wan help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Bladder Deficient and Cold' of which urinary incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Bladder Deficient And Cold include dizziness, frequent urination and feeling of cold.

Read more about Suo Quan Wan here

Liu Yi San

Source date: 1172 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Clears Summer-Heat. Drains Dampness. Supplements Qi.

Why might Liu Yi San help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat in the Bladder' of which urinary incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Heat In The Bladder include burning urination, dark urine and blood in urine.

Read more about Liu Yi San 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 urinary incontinence?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Collapsing Or Qi Sinking include dizziness, tinnitus and loose stools.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

Si Ni San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Regulates Liver and Spleen. Eliminates Internal Heat.

Why might Si Ni San help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm in Kidneys or Gallbladder' of which urinary incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm In Kidneys Or Gallbladder include back pain, gallstones and kidney stones.

Read more about Si Ni San here

Acupuncture points used for urinary incontinence

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat urinary incontinence

Why might Cuscuta Seed (Tu Si Zi) help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat urinary incontinence and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom (such as Fu Tu Dan for instance).

Cuscuta Seeds is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies Kidney Yang and Essence. Nourishes the Liver.

Read more about Cuscuta Seeds here

Why might Schisandra Berry (Wu Wei Zi) help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat urinary incontinence and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom (such as Fu Tu Dan for instance).

Schisandra Berries is a Warm herb that tastes Sour and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Kidneys and preserves the Essence. Astringes the Lung Qi and stops coughing. Retains Bodily Fluids and encourages their production. Tonifies the Heart and calms the spirit (Shen).

Read more about Schisandra Berries here

Why might Lindera Root (Wu Yao) help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat urinary incontinence and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom (such as Suo Quan Wan for instance).

Lindera Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Bladder, the Spleen, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Warms and stimulates the flow of Qi and relieves pain. Disperses Cold and Warms the Kidneys.

Read more about Lindera Roots here

Why might Foxnut Seed (Qian Shi) help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat urinary incontinence and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom (such as Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan for instance).

Foxnut Seeds is a Neutral herb that tastes Sour and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and stops diarrhea. Strengthens the Kidneys and restrains Essence. Dispels Dampness and relieves leukorrhea.

Read more about Foxnut Seeds here

Why might Cornelian Cherry (Shan Zhu Yu) help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat urinary incontinence and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom (such as You Gui Wan for instance).

Cornelian Cherries is a Warm herb that tastes Sour. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Preserves and tonifies the Kidney, Liver and Essence. Stops sweating and benefits the Yang and Qi. Assists menstruation and stops bleeding.

Read more about Cornelian Cherries here