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Acupuncture post miscarriage experienced diarrhoea and vomiting

Q:  I've had three weekly sessions of acupuncture having had a miscarriage 5 weeks ago. After the first I felt strong benefits. After the second I experienced unpleasant stomach cramps and diarrhoea and after the third although it was a gentler session, diarrhoea and vomiting 12 hours after. Just for a couple of hours and then I was fine again. obviously I am concerned as to whether I should continue as my body is clearly reacting quite dramatically. She is unable to advise me as she hasn't had any other patients react in this way in ten years! I'm happy to continue if this is seen in TCM as a positive thing but concerned that I may be causing harm to my body.

A: It is always a problem when someone throws a large reaction to treatment on more than one occasion. We do tend to advise patients of the range of possible reactions, what we usually called transient adverse events, and that if these do happen they will last for no more than 24-48 hours. We also tend to say that they are more common when someone has a first session, and we are often quite reassured by a strong reaction that the treatment has cleared something, and that the reaction has been a good one.

 However, if the same thing happens twice or three times, then we start to look at a number of factors. First is the case history. Is there sufficient evidence of prolonged energetic disturbance over a long period of time to warrant the kind of disturbance which is happening? We have come across cases where the 'clearing' of past blockages has taken a number of sessions, but when you look at the case history it was not a surprise. Then we might ask whether the treatment itself was too much for the person to take. There are a number of individuals for whom acupuncture treatment will always be a problem. This 'expert; had a patient for whom any more than three needles with minimal manipulation sent her spiralling out of control for a week or more. It took a long while to establish what the safe limits were.

 However, it looks as though your practitioner has taken this into account by making the treatment more gentle, and vomiting and diarrhoea is a very extreme reaction, even as a positive one. The first thing that we would do is to advise you to see your GP just to rule out that there isn't some sort of background infection which having treatment brings to the surface. It is highly unlikely, but there may be a contingent bug in your system which is causing problems because of the added influence of the treatment, for whatever reason, and you need to eliminate this.

 What we can say with some certainty is that you are highly unlikely to suffer any damage to your body with symptoms such as you report, other than perhaps a pulled muscle or two from heaving and slight soreness from the diarrhoea.  There is almost no evidence that acupuncture can cause harm other than by the physical nature of the needling itself puncturing organs or causing bruising. Reactions such as yours are probably a sign that the body is dealing with a pathogen of the kind which we describe, and this should mean that the reactions will diminish and cease soon. 

 Without knowing a great deal more about your case history there isn't much more that we can say, but we are impressed by the candour of your practitioner and believe that you are in safe hands. We strongly suspect that she will be as puzzled as you and will be talking to experienced colleagues to see what suggestions they may have.

 In any event we hope that these reactions cease and that the treatment can really benefit you without first having caused this rather extreme ripple on the pond.

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