The role of acupuncture in managing overactive bladder; a review of the literature

Int Urogynecol J. 2016 Nov;27(11):1645-1651. doi: 10.1007/s00192-015-2935-y. Epub 2016 Jan 6.


Introduction and hypothesis: Overactive bladder (OAB) affects a considerable proportion of men and women in the United States and is associated with significant costs and quality of life (QoL) reduction. While medication remains a mainstay of treatment, there is increasing interest in the use of alternative medicine in the form of acupuncture. We reviewed the literature on the role of acupuncture in managing OAB.

Methods: A narrative review was compiled after searching electronic databases (PubMed, MEDLINE, Scopus, and EMBASE) for clinical studies involving acupuncture in treating OAB. Databases were searched from the time of inception through September 2015 by a clinician for articles reporting the results related to the use of acupuncture in OAB. Key search terms were acupuncture, overactive bladder, bladder instability, urgency, urinary incontinence. Articles in English or translated into English were included.

Results: Initial animal studies suggest several biochemical mechanisms of action underlying the effect of acupuncture on OAB suppression. The experience in humans includes two case series and six comparative trials. All studies demonstrated subjective improvement in OAB symptoms, and some reported objective improvement in urodynamic studies. Notably, some comparative trials showed the benefit of acupuncture to be comparable with antimuscarinic treatment.

Conclusion: Despite their limitations, existing studies serve as a promising foundation for suggesting a role for acupuncture as an alternative therapy for OAB. Further well-designed studies are required to investigate optimal technique and their outcomes.

Keywords: Acupuncture; OAB; Overactive bladder; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points
  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urinary Bladder, Overactive / therapy*