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Ask an expert - body - abdomen / gastro intestinal

38 questions

Q: My sister has been experiencing tummy bloating for the  last two years.  She is interested in having acupuncture.

A: We are assuming in answering your query that your sister has had her symptom checked out thoroughly by conventional medicine. When you say 'tummy bloating' we don't know whether you mean 'all the time' or 'after eating.' Although it would be unlikely there are a number of fairly serious conditions which constant bloating may indicate, and it would be important to check that none of these is present, since delaying conventional treatment may have serious consequences.

 

The most likely outcome, if your sister has seen her GP, is that the problem has been diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a term which is used to cover a wide range of symptoms of which bloating is one. Within Chinese medicine abdominal bloating is very often tied to the poor functioning of a specific part of the system, the Spleen as understood in Chinese medicine terms, but the issue then is deciding whether this is a primary problem in itself or whether within the complex inter-relationships of the system, this is a problem elsewhere causing the Spleen to malfunction. The art and skill of the practitioner lies in making this kind of determination.

 

There are inevitably going to be many questions which the practitioner will ask about when the bloating occurs and what specific triggers your sister may have noticed, but we suspect that even without knowing more detail that the timing of eating food will be an issue as well as the kinds of food she is eating. This is not quite the same as food intolerance. From a Chinese medicine perspective there are certain types of food which aggravate some of the constitutional imbalances which people have and are best avoided. Many people, for example, are hindered by eating a great deal of cold and damp food, like raw fruit and vegetables, for example, and the irony is that many diets using these as a staple aimed at weight loss often have the opposite effect. However, it would need a proper face to face assessment to make this kind of judgement.

 

We cannot recommend individual practitioners, but if you use the search facility on the front page of the BAcC website and enter your postcode and nearby postcodes we are sure that your sister will find a practitioner who can offer her face to face advice on whether treatment would be of benefit to her.    

We can think of no reason why someone should not have acupuncture treatment when they have a gastric band fitted. The devices are generally made of silicon, and so there are no cautions about the use of electro-acupuncture as there are with some devices. The band also does not displace the stomach and make a penetration wound more likely, so there are no points which one might need to avoid.
 
We are confident that acupuncture treatment would be safe, and also that it might even help you to deal with the changes which the band will induce in your system. The essence of Chinese medicine theory is that it helps to restore and maintain a balance in the energy of the body, and as your body weight starts to drop, and with it the functions of your organs change, there is every reason to believe that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit in ensuring that the change in your internal balance is controlled and comfortable.
 
There is, of course, no research into the use of acupuncture for this kind of intervention, but the 2000-year old tradition of Chinese medicine is founded on an underlying premise of helping the body and mind to deal with changes in their condition through life and through the changing of the year, so this would be a reasonable backdrop against which to have treatment.

Q:  My daughter has intermittently crippling trigger-point pain in the side of her abdomen. Is there any evidence that acupuncture can help? If so, which is the best kind? Massage will certainly be out of the question, she is too tender.

 

A:  It is interesting to us that you use the term 'trigger point' pain, since trigger points themselves belong to the vocabulary of systems of western medical acupuncture and refer to knots in muscle which often cause symptoms, often quite severe, to occur elsewhere along the fibres of the muscle and the structures to which they attach. The location of the trigger points, and their treatment with acupuncture, is a system which many doctors use, and is replicated in Chinese medicine where the knots and the pain consequent upon their palpation are referred to as 'ah shi' (literally, 'yes, that's it') points, and often treated with a similar direct needling. The main difference in treatment will probably be that the Chinese medicine practitioner will also be looking at the overall picture to see whether the knots form a part of a broader pattern of imbalance within the patient's system. This can ensure that any underlying conditions which may cause recurrences of the problem are dealt with.
 
We are sure that you have already had all of the routine western medical examinations, but if this is not the case then this would be our initial and fairly urgent recommendation. Pains of this nature in a child usually have a specific cause, and the obvious ones should be eliminated by investigation first. If she is too tender for massage, this would indicate a more generalised discomfort which may point to an underlying pathology. If there are no obvious pathologies, then the choice of practitioner is really up to you, since the treatment approach may be very similar. Your doctor may even be able to offer this as a part of their service.
 
However, although we do not as yet recognise specialisms in acupuncture (our view is that we are committed to generalism - every practitioner is capable of treating any patient within the limits of their competence), there are many BAcC members who undertake specific postgraduate training in treating children, and they are very used to dealing with children. We cannot make individual referrals for obvious reasons, but it should be relatively easy to track down someone local to you who has undertaken such training and with whom in the first instance you can discuss whether treatment may be of benefit. We are sure that they will offer you an independent and impartial assessment of the best course of action.
 

Q:  I am a 34 yr old female. I have experienced rectum pain for the past 3-4 yrs. It is sharp and feels like muscle spasms. Lately I seem to get it every day. Nurofen seems to be the only tablets that work effectively and quickly. My doctor has done some tests and can't see anything obvious. She has suggested sending me to a dietician though I am not convinced. Can acupuncture help?

A:  It is extremely difficult to say whether acupuncture treatment would be of benefit in a case like yours. There is very little evidence that we can find, and such as there is is normally a feature of case histories of ulcerative colitis and very clearly diagnosable gastro-intestinal conditions which would be instantly recognisable to your GP. The fact that the tests have come back without any obvious signs does make recommendations more difficult. The referral to a dietician may be based on some aspects of the case of which we are not aware, such as the timing and nature of the food you eat, and if this is the case you may well find that the referral is a good one. Many people have diets which, though well intentioned and often recommended as natural or healthy, are not at all good for their systems.
 
From a Chinese medicine perspective, a practitioner would probably want to talk about the way the condition developed in the first place, the sort of general health background against which it developed, the longer term context of your overall health and family's health, and the speed with which it became a problem. Chinese medicine in this respect is no different from western medicine; the patient is like a puzzle which the practitioner detective-like tries to unravel. The entirely different conceptual and theoretical basis on which Chinese medicine works may offer solutions which would not be apparent to the western practitioner, and there may be aspects of your overall functioning which point to specific treatment possibilities.
 
Generally speaking, however, the best that one can do in these cases is to treat the person according to the principles of Chinese medicine and see whetherre-establishing balance overall helps the specific symptom to reduce or cease. This can sometimes lead to the odd situation where a symptom goes without anyone being clear about what caused it, but the patient is usually not too troubled by this.
 
If you did decide to try acupuncture we would advise that you set a very clear limit to how many sessions you try initially so that you can assess whether it is helping. We do not like to see situations develop wherer someone has ten or fifteen sessions without discernible change and feels cheated. If the process is agreed from the start, such as a review at five sessions, then the room for misunderstandings is reduced.
 

 

Q: I suffer from a prolapsed bowel which I cannot have an operation for because I also suffer from COPD. Would acupuncture treatment help me with the pain?

 

A:  While there is a great deal of literature on the use of acupuncture for pain relief, as our factsheet shows please click here
 
 
the kind of discomfort you will suffer as a consequence of a prolapsed bowel may not respond as well as some types of pain to treatment.
 
However, within the theory of Chinese medicine there are a number of syndromes, recognised clusters of symptoms with a specific cause, which include prolapses as one of the main presentations. In all cases they point to a functional disturbance of a specific part of the system, and as recognised symptoms there are a number of treatment protocols which have been used for centuries to address them.
 
However, we must not give you false hope. There are dozens of reasons for prolapses, and in some cases they would be considered beyond treatment even in Chinese medicine. If there are other confirming patterns of symptoms, though, a practitioner may be able to offer you some help, and treatment could certainly not do any harm.
 
We suggest that you contact a BAcC member local to you and ask their advice about your specific case. 
 

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