Acupuncture using a laser beam might help incontinence in children, according to a new study from Turkey.
The results show that "laser acupuncture therapy which is non-invasive, painless, short-term therapy with low cost can be considered as an alternative therapy for patients with (bedwetting)," said Dr Orhan Koca, one of the study's authors from the Haydarpasa Numune Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul.
Outside researchers were more sceptical that the procedure was any better than other methods currently used to treat bedwetters, which include behavioural therapy and medications that make the body produce less urine.
Dr Koca and colleagues wanted to see if by targeting points on the body associated with the bladder in traditional Chinese medicine, they could help kids stop wetting the bed.
They recruited 91 young patients from their clinic who were bedwetters. Kids were an average of eight or nine years old, and they typically wet the bed about four nights per week.
Using a low-power laser, about two-thirds of the kids received acupuncture therapy on traditional bladder points three times a week for four weeks. The other kids, used for comparison, got the same treatment but with a fake laser.
Fifteen days after completing the treatment, 40% of kids who got therapy with a real laser had stopped wetting the bed entirely, compared to 8% of those with fake laser treatment. After 6 months, rates of complete improvement were 54% versus 12%.
Also six months after the treatment, kids in the laser therapy group wet the bed less than twice a week on average, compared to three times a week in the fake-laser group.
Dr Steve Hodges, a paediatric urologist from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, said that acupuncture could be beneficial because it involves stimulating nerves, and "there's a valid scientific basis for nerve stimulation leading to bladder relaxation, and therefore increasing your capacity to hold urine at night."
Is it needed?
A lot of kids who suffer from bedwetting, he said, could be cured with behavioural changes –such as setting an alarm to wake kids up to pee during the night, or they may be wetting the bed because they're constipated, which is also easily fixable.
Dr Peter Lipson, an internist in southeastern Michigan, said the effect of acupuncture was probably due to chance and challenged whether the bladder points that were stimulated by the laser were medically relevant.
The diagram of those points "does not correspond to any real, physiologic or anatomic 'thing'," Dr Lipson, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health in an email. "There is no way to measure, observe or otherwise verify the existence of these points other than by folklore," he added.
The authors said this treatment is not commonly used in practise and they that are unsure how much it would cost if it was.
Dr Hodges said it is probably more expensive than other, generally successful ways to treat bedwetting. While laser acupuncture might work, he said, treating bedwetters is "something that doesn't need to be all that complicated."
(Reuters Health, Genevra Pittman, April 2011)
Acupuncture for incontinence