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Can acupuncture help with infertility, endometriosis, fibroids and severe abdominal pain?

Q:   Can acupuncture help with infertility, endometriosis, fibroid and severe abdominal pain. I live in Ghana, how do I find a specialist in this field?

A:We have to say that we are finding it very difficult to locate a reputable practitioner in Ghana. We don't mean that there aren't any, but we have no way of checking from this distance whether someone is a bona fide practitioner or not. There are a number of companies which appear to advertise themselves as having outlets all over Ghana, but the ones that we can find are mainly based in Accra. If you can locate one of these they may be able to help you to find professional colleagues elsewhere in the country. The other option is to ask your Department of Health. Acupuncture is quite often regulated by the state, and this means that there may be a nationwide listing.

As far as the conditions which you mention are concerned. we have a number of factsheets which can tell you how successful is in treating these conditions, The main ones are:

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/female-fertility.html

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/endometriosis.html

We have been asked a number of questions about these problems over the years, and one answer which may be of use to you was:

I have 3, 4cm Fibroids. I am also trying for a baby. Does accupuncture help to reduce the size of these fibroids and improve fertility?

From a western perspective the evidence for treating fibroids is not that good. In a major review undertaken two years ago

http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/userfiles/ccoch/file/Acupuncture_ancient_traditions/CD007221.pdf

the authors concluded that while acupuncture was heavily used in China to treat fibroids, there was not enough research conducted according to the best practice in the West to be able to draw firm conclusions. The same applies to acupuncture for the treatment of (in)fertility. As our own factsheet acknowledges such evidence as there is does not really provide a strong enough foundation to make sustainable claims.

However, one of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is that it operates with an entirely different understanding of pathology and physiology. There are ways in which conditions which are given western labels like 'fibroids' are understood which do not overlap or translate exactly with the western label. Fibroids, for example, are sometimes described as 'Blood stasis' or as manifestations of 'Dampness', and the treatment protocols are aimed at these as systemic problems which manifest in the local disturbance. If the diagnosis is one of 'blood stasis' or 'dampness' there may well be other symptoms and diagnostic signs which confirm this pattern.

As far as fertility is concerned, much the same reasoning applies. The Chinese took the simplistic, but effective, view that if everything was in balance, then natural processes should happen without problem. If a natural process like conception did not function, then it was simply a matter of correcting the overall balance and letting nature take its course. Even if there are specific symptoms which are implicated in the failure to conceive, these may still be best understood as part of an overall pattern and treated accordingly.

Our one word of caution is that the acupuncture treatment of fertility issues, especially related to assisted reproduction such as IVF and ICSI, has become a growth industry over the last few years, and alongside BAcC members many other individuals and clinics have set up which often charge extremely high fees for treatment which is no better than that offered by any BAcC member. While we do not recognise specialisms, there are many BAcC members who focus their work on fertility and pregnancy issues, and often have a wealth of additional background knowledge in these areas. For women undergoing IVF and ICSI this understanding can be a valuable addition to the work that a BAcC member does. The acupuncture treatment itself, however, is based on principles over 2000 years old which underpin the work of all BAcC members.

It is also worth using the search facility on our home page to see what other answers we have given over the years, many of which may be relevant to you.

What we have to say, though, is that the evidence for the use of acupuncture treatment of endometriosis and fibroids is not great, but that is mainly a reflection of the fact that there isn't a great deal of it in the West, and the studies from China, of which there are hundreds, are often methodologically flawed. Anecdotally we can say that we have had some success with all aspects which you touch on but we would have to be honest and say that fibroids and endometriosis, particularly the latter, can be very treatment resistant, and if they are becoming a source of secondary problems, such as infertility, there may be no other resort than surgical options.

As you can see from the embedded answer, the treatment of fertility problems has become something of a growth area in the last decade, and with it have come entrepreneurs on the fringes of the complementary health world happy to cash in on what is a highly emotionally charged situation. We would advise you to take special care if you do find people who promise results at a price. A bona fide professional will see fertility problems as just another manifestation of problems in someone's energies, and will treat the person exactly as they would if the presenting symptom were headaches or IBS.

That said, we are on the point of recognising expert practice in this field in the UK, and practitioners who have undertaken significant postgraduate training in working with this group will be able to lay claim to recognition as expert practitioners.

We wish you well in your search for a good practitioner.

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