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Q:  Can acupuncture help relieve symptoms of painful bladder syndrome / interstitial cystitis?

A: Rather surprisingly, there is very little research into this problem. This came as something of a surprise to us because we have colleagues who have made this an area of special interest for a number of years, and we had assumed that this would have been evidence of a more general interest in researching this problem. The most recent study we could find

is typical of many areas of research, where what is available is an extended case report which is suggestive of benefit but a long way short of the standards of proof accepted in the West for claims of efficacy.

However, this does not mean that Chinese medicine has nothing to offer. Problems like this are not modern inventions, and there are a number of recognised syndromes within one of the prevailing styles of Chinese acupuncture which address the problem directly. However, it has to be said that the underlying premise of traditional Chinese medicine is that it treats the person, not the disease, and the practitioner will be interested in seeing the overall pictuire, the backdrop against which the problem developed. This is why, to much puzzlement in the West, the same named condition in twenty people might be treated in twenty entirely different ways. Symptoms are not necessarily the same as the disease, but usually regarded only as evidence that the system as a whole is out of balance.

The main issue with problems such as interstitial cystitis is that they can have good and bad patches, and if someone does decide to have treatment it can be difficult on occasion to work out whether a good run is just simply a good run or whether the treatment is working. Outcome measures are important, but so is regular review of progress and also careful consideration of whether a good patch is down to treatment or not. We have seen a number of case over the years where progress has been written off as 'just a random good run' where practitioners have been less careful about agreeing reliable outcome measures, and this is an opportunity missed.

The best advice we can give, though, is to visit a BAcC member local to you to see whether in their view there is something to be done for you. We are confident that in many cases there will be some positive change but the unknown factor is how much and how sustainable the change is.

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