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Ask an expert - body - abdomen / gastro intestinal - crohn's disease
Q. I have had Crohn's disease for 23 years. I have managed this without drugs for the last 14 years (diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle) however the Doctors convinced me to start an immunosupressant drug about 6 months ago as they said the disease activity was very severe (even though I experience few, and only mild, symptoms). The drug does not seem to have worked and the doctors are suggesting I add another immunosupressant drug to this. I am really keen to prevent this so am looking for alternative treatments. I am aware that there is a body of research supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of Crohn's and was hoping you would be able to recommend somebody who has a knowledge/experience of this?
A. The use of acupuncture and moxibustion for the treatment of Crohn's Disease and related conditions such as ulcerative colitis has a long history in China. There are many studies which seek to establish what treatments are more effective, but most presume that acupuncture already works and are not accepted in the west because of methodological weakness. You will find individual studies which show some positive outcomes, such as
and a much quoted systematic review which is highly encouraging
but it would be a bit of a stretch to call this a 'body of evidence.'
There is always an element of concern in our advice when someone has a potentially serious condition which is being treated with conventional medication. If the markers for your illness are quite serious, in spite of the relative absence of symptoms, and serious enough for your doctors and consultants to want to try a second immunosuppressive drug, it would be irresponsible of us to recommend that you try to use acupuncture instead of this. Our advice would always be to use acupuncture treatment alongside conventional medicine for cases such as yours, and if and only if the markers reduce, then discuss with your consultant the possibility for reducing the prescribed medicines.
As far as our members are concerned, all are equally equipped to use Chinese medicine for the most frequent presentations in clinic; indeed, the generalist physician was honoured in ancient China above the specialist physician who was seen to be limited. There are one or two areas where members focus their work on specific groups of patients, like children or pregnant women, and they often take on board some additional conventional medical material to help them to work better with their patients. The entry level acupuncture skills are the same for all members, however, and experience usually means learning how to use the basic knowledge better, not learning more new knowledge. Any BAcC member located near you should be able to provide you with safe and competent treatment.