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 frequent urination, dizziness and lower back pain in the pattern “Bladder Deficient and Cold”. 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 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 frequent urination, dizziness and lower back pain.

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

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

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, impotence and frequent urination.

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 urinary incontinence, other symptoms associated with Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking include diarrhea, frequent urination 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

Five herbal formulas that might help with urinary incontinence

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 frequent urination, dizziness and lower back pain.

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

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 urinary incontinence is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Cold In The Bladder include feeling of heaviness in urethra and pale urine.

Read more about Wu Lin San here

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 urinary incontinence?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Yang Deficiency include spermatorrhea, impotence and frequent urination.

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 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 diarrhea, frequent urination and loose stools.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

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

Why might Praying Mantis Egg-Case (Sang Piao Shao) 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 Sang Piao Xiao San for instance).

Praying Mantis Egg-Cases is a Neutral herb that tastes Salty and Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies Kidneys and strengthens Yang. Restrains Essence and decreases urination.

Read more about Praying Mantis Egg-Cases here

Why might Sharp-Leaf Galangal Fruit (Yi Zhi Ren) 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).

Sharp-Leaf Galangal Fruits is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Tonifies Kidney Yang and consolidates Kidney Qi. Warms the Spleen and stops diarrhea and salivation.

Read more about Sharp-Leaf Galangal Fruits 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 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 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 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 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