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Is acupuncture beneficial for ocular myasthenia?

Q:  I have been diagnosed with ocular myasthenia and have been reading up about possible benefits of acupuncture treatment.  I was wondering if I can get contact details about a good acupuncturists based in Edinburgh.

A:  There is, as you might expect, not a great deal of evidence for the treatment of ocular myasthenia with acupuncture. We managed to find half a dozen case studies, mainly in Chinese and not translated, which showed some encouraging signs, but the reality is that small case studies only get published because they are the ones where treatment worked. As such, they are not reliable, because in single cases there are many other factors which might have had an impact. However, there was one study of more cases which seemed a great deal more positive, which you can read here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S100352571360032X

We were asked a little while ago about myasthenia gravis, and what we said there is just as applicable to your problem which is one presentation of the wider condition.

There is a small amount of evidence that acupuncture may be beneficial for treating myasthenia gravis, but the studies, like this one


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18271233


are small in size and while suggestive of benefit a very long way from being conclusive evidence.

The trite answer we could give is that acupuncture treats the person, not the disease, and to the extent that all acupuncture treatment is geared to helping the body mind and spirit to normal function, then all conditions should, in theory, benefit from treatment. However, one has to be very careful with statements like this because it gives a false impression that all conditions are curable, which is clearly not the case. There are many debilitating diseases which are chronic and degenerative, for which the best one can say, as one patient famously did, is that they were 'very pleased because they were getting worse slower.'

The one advantage of Chinese medicine, however, is that it looks at the symptoms which patients experience through an entirely different diagnostic framework, one which can sometimes make sense of conditions in a way that conventional medicine cannot. Very few diseases are new, and Chinese doctors were probably treating this two thousand years ago without any concept of auto-immune disorders. they would simply have made sense of the presentation of the condition based on the understanding of the physiology in Chinese medicine and the pathologies which could arise when internal or external factors disturbed the flow of energy, or 'qi' as it is called, and led to organic malfunction.

Weakness and flaccidity of the muscles could be understood as a local or systemic problem, and the skill and art of the Chinese medicine practitioner lies in determining the most elegant and effective way to restore balance and good flow. It may be worthwhile asking a BAcC member local to you whether there is something obviously out of kilter in your system which might be contributing to the problems you have. 

On balance, though, we have to be realistic and say that even anecdotal evidence is not that great, and what acupuncture may do, more than remove or reduce symptoms themselves, is to help you withthe secondary stresses and anxieties which the condition can engender. Many patients report this as an outcome which in itself makes treatment valuable.

We think that asking a local BAcC member for a view remains sound advice, and is probably a more realistic way of approaching the problem than by reference to a named condition occurring in different patients with different baseline constitutions. How your problem presents will be something which can inform a professional view far better than we can do here at this remove.

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