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 dizziness, tinnitus and loose stools in the pattern “Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking”. As you will see below, we have in record three 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 three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause urinary incontinence

In Chinese Medicine urinary 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.

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

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 urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency include spermatorrhea, leukorrhea and impotence.

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

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

Damp-Cold in the Bladder

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Slow (Chi)

In addition to urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Damp-Cold in the Bladder include feeling of heaviness in urethra and pale urine.

Damp-Cold 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-Cold in the Bladder here

Five herbal formulas that might help with urinary incontinence

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 frequent and urgent urination is a symptom.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang 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 urinary incontinence?

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

Read more about You Gui Wan here

Ba Zheng San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat and Fire. Promotes urination. Unblocks painful urinary dribbling.

Why might Ba Zheng San help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Cold in the Bladder' of which frequent and urgent urination is a symptom.

Read more about Ba Zheng San here

Wu Lin San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Clears heat. Cools the Blood. Promotes urination. Unblocks painful urinary dribbling.

Why might Wu Lin San help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Cold in the Bladder' of which frequent and urgent urination is a symptom.

Read more about Wu Lin San here

Shi Wei San

Source date: 1687 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Clears heat. Promotes the resolution of Dampness. Unblocks painful urinary dribbling. Expels stones.

Why might Shi Wei San help with urinary incontinence?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Cold in the Bladder' of which frequent and urgent urination is a symptom.

Read more about Shi Wei San here

Acupuncture points used for urinary incontinence

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

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

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom, like Wu Lin San or Er Xian Tang for instance.

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

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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with urinary incontinence?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom, like Liu Yi San or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Yam (Shan Yao) help with urinary incontinence?

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

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

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 Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) help with urinary incontinence?

Because Prepared Aconite is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom, like You Gui Wan or Shen Qi Wan for instance.

Prepared Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang.

Read more about Prepared Aconite here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with urinary incontinence?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat urinary incontinence as a symptom, like Fu Tu Dan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here