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Currently receiving acupuncture to aid fertility and getting spotting before my period

Q:I have recently started acupuncture to aid fertility (my husband and I have been trying to conceive for 18 months with no luck). I am currently receiving acupuncture every fortnight and have been doing so for the past three months. Since starting the treatment I have been experiencing irregular spotting for about a week before my period is due. Is this normal? I am starting to think it is doing more harm than good.

A: We are sorry to hear of your problem. We would probably need a great deal more detail before we could offer a more specific view - what kind of bleeding, how long, any triggers and the background context of your normal cycle and problems with conceiving. Even then we would be cautious; there are several reasons why someone can start spotting, and it would be incautious to be offering too definitive a view at long range.

 What we can say with certainty, though, is that it is highly unlikely that acupuncture treatment has caused anything in the body to malfunction. The only harm that acupuncture treatment can ever do is physical damage to the body by putting a needle into internal organs by needling incorrectly, or by the simple act of insertion itself - nerve damage, minor bruising. We all train for a minimum of three years to ensure that these sorts of accidents don't happen, and the safety record of acupuncture treatment is exemplary. Research studies published in the BMJ a decade ago reveal how few even minor adverse events there are, only about 14 in 66,000 treatments.

 There are occasionally reactions like this when the body starts to return to normal function, and sometimes energetic reasons why a patient might be losing blood in the later part of the cycle. However, were this to happen to any of our patients our first action would be to refer them to their GP or consultant for further testing and investigation. The majority of reasons for spotting at this stage of the cycle are benign but some aren't, and these need to be checked out immediately. It may be that the acupuncture treatment and the advent of spotting are purely coincidental, and we have had to deal with a number of cases in the past where arguments have kicked off about what caused a problem while the problem itself has gone uninvestigated. Finding out what is happening should always be the first step; what caused it usually emerges from getting the answer.

 The other thing we would do is to seek the advice of experts within the acupuncture profession in the treatment of fertility issues. Although we have yet to formally recognised specialisms there are two or three areas like paediatrics and obstetrics/fertility where practitioners have undertaken significant postgraduate study and where leading practitioners have dedicated their practice solely to these areas. Many BAcC members undertake training with them, and have access to their advice and expertise. We would hope that any member who did not fully understand why a specific symptom was happening to ask for specialist advice to set a patient's mind at rest.

 We hope that this isn't too woolly, but without greater detail we would be unhappy to be more specific. We think the best advice is to talk the matter through with your practitioner, and if they cannot offer a satisfactory explanation then they should be talking to someone who can. In any event, we would advise you to get the symptom checked anyway just to eliminate some of the more rare reasons why spotting can start to happen.


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