Can acupuncture work with IBS diarrhoea

It is often difficult to answer questions like yours because there are so many variations on this particular theme. This happens not least because the term IBS has become so elastic that it covers nearly every digestive problem from one end of the digestive tract to the other.

The first thing to say is that if you are experiencing or have experienced any episodes of diarrhoea then we are assuming, and hoping, that your GP is fully aware of this. The management of chronic diarrhoea involves ensuring that a person remains adequately hydrated and also does not develop deficiencies in some of the vital trace elements which are re-absorbed in the lower gut. We are not suggesting that you should be taking preparations like diarolyte, but we think that your doctor should be making suggestions about what it is best to do, along with organising investigations like stool tests and endoscopy to ensure that there is nothing more serious going on.

The second thing we would do, if you were a patient, would be to have one of those discussions which we enjoy (!) about what you are actually describing. Chinese medicine works from an entirely different theoretical basis from conventional medicine, with a complex understanding of the energies of the body. The term 'diarrhoea' is used to cover a wide range of presentations, and the treatment for all in conventional medicine is often the same. From a Chinese medicine perspective there are some crucial variations, which is why we need to establish exactly what is happening. There is a considerable difference between, say, the kind of explosive and often unpleasant bowel movement which often feels like heat leaving the body and the less well-formed stool that needs to be passed urgently and quickly. These point to entirely different pathologies in the system, and that would mean very different kinds of treatment.

The research evidence for the treatment of IBS is not great, as our factsheet shows

https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.html

but this has a great deal to do with the difficulty of assembling test and control groups with identical presentations and causes of problem. Our clinical practice involves treating many people with IBS, often as a part of a wider pattern of problems, and we usually feel confident about being able to make some progress. The question for us is often how much and how sustainable, rather than does it work, and oddly for a therapy about encouraging movement and flow we are often more able to bring loose movements under control than to deal with constipation which often forms part of a wider pattern of 'stuckness.'

IBS often sits as a part of a wider pattern of imbalance, and the strength of Chinese medicine is that in treating the person, not simply the named condition, it aims to remove underlying causes as much as addressing the symptoms alone.

The best advice that we can give is that you visit a local BAcC member for an informal chat about whether acupuncture may be appropriate for you. Most of our colleagues are willing to do this without charge so that they can give an informed view before a patient commits to treatment.

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