Acupuncture using a laser beam might help young bedwetters break the nighttime habit, according to a new study from Turkey.
The results show that "laser acupuncture therapy which is noninvasive, painless, short-term therapy with low cost can be considered as an alternative therapy for patients with (bedwetting)," Dr. Orhan Koca, one of the study's authors from the Haydarpasa Numune Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul told Reuters Health in an email.
But outside researchers were more skeptical that the procedure was any better than other methods currently used to treat bedwetters, which include behavioral therapy and medications that make the body produce less urine.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5 million U.S. kids over age 5 are bedwetters. Those kids make more urine during the night than their bladders can hold - but they don't wake up to use the bathroom when their bladders are full.
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 8 or 9 years old, and they typically wet the bed about 4 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 4 weeks. The other kids, used for comparison, got the same treatment but with a fake laser.
Fifteen days after completing the treatment, 40 percent of kids who got therapy with a real laser had stopped wetting the bed entirely, compared to 8 percent of those with fake laser treatment. After 6 months, rates of complete improvement were 54 percent versus 12 percent.
Also 6 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 pediatric urologist from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center 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."
However, said Hodges, who was not involved in the study, "the question is whether you need that."
A lot of kids who suffer from bedwetting, he said, could be cured with behavioral 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'," 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 practice and they that are unsure how much it would cost if it was.
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."