Nerve Stimulation Reduces Urinary Tract Symptoms
Gentle electrical stimulation of a nerve in the lower leg helps women with lower urinary tract symptoms, reports a new study in European Urology (2004;45:65–9).
Lower urinary tract dysfunction, characterized by symptoms such as urinary frequency, urgency, pain, and incontinence, can occur in the absence of infection or obstruction. This type of urinary tract dysfunction is often classified as irritative. With varying degrees of success, functional tests are used to identify specific problems of the lower urinary tract that can cause irritative symptoms (bladder hypersensitivity and over- or under-activity of a muscle in the bladder wall). Muscle-relaxing medications, often used to manage irritative urinary tract symptoms, are frequently ineffective and can cause uncomfortable side effects such as tiredness, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation.
Acupuncture has been found to effectively treat irritative urinary symptoms; it works by normalizing the activity of pelvic muscles and stabilizing the bladder. Low electrical current applied to needles placed in traditional acupuncture points (electroacupuncture) stimulates nearby nerves and the muscles they control. It is also believed to act on distant muscles controlled by nerves that come from the same place in the spine as the nerve being directly stimulated. Electroacupuncture at a point above the ankle known as Spleen-6 stimulates a nerve in the lower leg and has been shown to affect the function of muscles in the bladder wall. Several studies have found that irritative urinary symptoms can effectively be reduced through electroacupuncture treatments at Spleen-6.
Fifty-one otherwise healthy women with irritative lower urinary tract symptoms participated in the current study; all of them had tried muscle-relaxing medications without relief. A low electrical current was applied to a point above the inner ankle for 30 minutes once per week for ten weeks. Symptom diaries were used to record episodes of incontinence, pain, daytime and nighttime urinary frequency, urine volume, and quality of life. Symptom and quality-of-life data were evaluated with questionnaires at the beginning of the study, during treatment, and at the end of the study. Incontinence, pain, daytime and nighttime frequency, and volume were significantly improved from the beginning to the end of the study. Furthermore, quality-of-life scores were significantly better at the end of the study than at the beginning.
The results of this study are consistent with those from others that have shown that electrical stimulation of a nerve in the lower leg, via a specific acupuncture point, benefits people with irritative lower urinary tract symptoms. Studies with longer follow-up would be useful to determine how long these benefits last. Electroacupuncture should be considered by people with lower urinary tract dysfunction, especially in cases of medication failure or intolerance.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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