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53 questions

Q: I have had urticaria for almost 2 years now and I have been on antihistamines for a year. Traditional medicine does not offer any solution in my case - none of the doctors can establish what causes it and no one knows how to get rid of it. My only hope at the moment is alternative medicine and I have heard that acupuncture could offer a solution. Do you have any record of it helping with my condition ?

A:   We were asked about the treatment of urticaria with acupuncture a little while ago, and our response then was:

Can acupuncture treat urticaria with any level of success?

Success is a very loaded word in the context of what one can now claim in marketing and advertising. The standard of proof in all healthcare advertising is the randomised, double blind control trial, the model most often used for testing drugs, and it has to be said that it is not very well suited to assessing whether acupuncture 'works' or not. Reducing variables is the last thing a practitioner would try to do in Chinese medicine; understanding and interpreting their variations is integral to the way that the system works. Hence a paper such as this one from 1998
is a great example of the problems we face when asked questions such as this. The manifestations of urticaria, understood in Chinese medicine terms as a description of the specific symptoms, have always been around and like any complete system of medicine, Chinese acupuncture has ways of understanding how the heat and swelling develop, and within the system has developed clear protocols to deal with the problem.
However, as the paper acknowledges, getting precise enough definitions if urticaria itself to assemble a trial is a problem, as indeed would be the next stage, ensuring that the test and control groups had the same western and eastern conditions to guarantee objectivity. However, when one takes into account that in Chinese medicine the person with the disease is as important, if not more so, than the disease which the person has, it becomes rather difficult to talk meaningfully of treating a named condition.
That said, there are papers which examine the presentations and treatments of urticaria such as this one
where there is a very positive reference (60) to a paper which on the surface appears to meet the criteria for inclusion in a growing body of good evidence.
We prefer to hold to the view that each patient is individual, and that it is the unique assessment of their energy by a skilled practitioner which is the best judgement of whether treatment may be beneficial. It is true that many patients present themselves for treatment with urticaria-like symptoms, and anecdotally we here of success in both acute and chronic cases. However, if you wanted to establish whether acupuncture treatment was a good option for yourself or someone on whose behalf you are asking, then a brief face to face assessment by a BAcC member local to you is your best way of establishing this. 

We think that this still represents the best advice we can give. Anecdotally we have all had some very positive experiences of treating people with urticaria. Of all the skin conditions this appears to be the most amenable to acupuncture. For many other conditions, like psoriasis or eczema, we have often recommended the use of Chinese herbal medicine alongside acupuncture treatment. There are a considerable number of BAcC members who are also members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, and there may be some advantage on seeing someone who uses both, although as we have said, you may well find that acupuncture treatment by itself can offer a solution.

If you do go ahead, it is very important to set measurable outcomes and to ensure that your review the treatment at regular intervals. It is quite easy to run up a large bill in pursuit of success without realising, and the responsible practitioner will always check on a regular basis that there are enough signs of improvement to warrant carrying on. 


Q: On behalf of a friend, is there any point in trying acupuncture for scleroderma, at present in the lungs and skin.  I have had remarkable success with acUpuncture for rheumatoid arthritis.

A: In our view, there is always good reason to try acupuncture treatment! By its very nature, traditional Chinese medicine treats the person, not the disease, and the physical manifestation of a problem is seen within a picture of the whole person involving all aspects of their body, mind and spirit. We find that this can often be a very rewarding way of approaching auto-immune conditions where there is no obvious physical cause. This obviously doesn't mean that there is an alternate cause in mind or spirit, but from a Chinese medicine perspective symptoms are not the problem, simply an indication that the system as a whole is not in balance. Indeed, the earliest systems of Chinese medicine were asymptomatic, using the symptoms only as indicators of returning overall balance,

As far as research into scleroderma is concerned, there are a number of studies which are encouraging, good examples of which are

but even here this is far from standard treatment fare. Of course, one of the problems with conducting research is that to meet western research protocol standards as many variables as possible have to be taken out of the equation. Since scleroderma is a relatively rare condition and can present in many different ways, it is not that easy to assemble a meaningful sample and control group for testing.

However, as we have already said, and as you have personally experienced, acupuncture treatment can often provide remarkable benefits where there is not a great deal of conventional medical treatment available. We tend to take the view that there will always be a benefit, but how much and how sustainable are open questions. We rely on the probity of our members to set clear outcome measures and regular review periods to enable everyone involved to assess whether there is sufficient impact from treatment to warrant continuing for a longer time.

The best advice we can give you for your friend is to visit a local BAcC member for a brief face to face assessment of what might be possible. This will always be far better than any 'remote' answer that we can give.

A:  Balanitis can be a very uncomfortable and distressing condition, but we have found no research articles which offer any evidence that acupuncture treatment can be of benefit. We would be very surprised to have done so, at least in English. Though not rare, the condition is not in the forefront of more common problems for which the use of acupuncture is tested, and although there are very likely to be research papers in Chinese, the vast majority of these are never translated into English and as such are difficult to track down.
All that we can say is that the primary aim of traditional acupuncture treatment is to treat the person, not the presenting problem with which they attend a clinic. Although people talk of seeing a BAcC member for their migraines or backache, the underlying premise of Chinese medicine is that each person is a unique balance of energies, and that understanding why the named condition appears requires a full understanding of the person in whom it appears. This is not a perspective unqiue to Chinese medicine; the grear Canadian physician William Osler once wrote 'it is much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than what sort of disease a patient has'. From a Chinese medicine perspective the important thing to establish is why a problem such as this does not resolve of its own accord, i.e. what is happening in the energetics of the body which prevents a natural process of healing.
Generally speaking we find that most members are adept at treating both constitutionally to balance the whole system while at the same time using more local and targeted treatments for some of the more distressing aspects of a condition such as acute pain or discomfort. This does not necessarily mean needles in the affected area, you will be relieved to hear, but often takes advantages of energetic pathways which traverse an affected area by activating points which have an effect at a distance.
Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and ask whether they think, based on some of the wider diagnostic information they can glean, that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit to you. In the case of skin problems of any type, we often advise someone to seek the advice of an acupuncture practitioner who also uses Chinese herbal medicine. In our experience this is often a very potent way of dealing with skin problems. Since 90% of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) membership are also BAcC members, it is not that difficult to use both databases to locate a practitioner close to where you live.
The absence of evidence for treating balanitis means that you should set very clear review periods if you decide to go ahead with acupuncture treatment, and also try to establish measurable outcomes, something which will demonstrate whether or not the treatment is having an effect. In our experience, it is quite easy to clock up a large number of treatments with no discernible change unless clear ground rules are drawn up at the beginning, and if this is not done it can create dissatisfaction.  

Q:  Can my 15 year old son receive acupuncture? He has severe eczema.  This is a last resort we have tried everything.

A:  The use of acupuncture for skin conditions is not particularly well researched, as our fact sheet shows:

There may be a number of reasons for this, one of which is that skin conditions form a 'fuzzy' set where the definition and location are not always precise enough to be testing like with like, a pre-condition of the randomised double blind control trial much loved by western science.

That said, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence within the profession about good reactions to treatment, especialy a reduction in the amount of itching and discomfort. One has to be cautious, however; a very common effect of initial treatment is a radical improvement followed by a settling back to nearly the same state as before. We have seen a number of people become even more disheartened when this has happened, even though we have said that short-term results are unlikely and if they appear usually unsustainable.

It has to be said, though, that the collective view inside the BAcC is that skin problems are usually best treated with a combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. There is something about the precision with which the formulae are designed and the daily routine of treatment which clearly seems to evince powerful changes in the system. Most members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC acupuncturists, and finding someone in your area who practises both may be a very good way forward. The fact that your son is 15 may also be in his favour; although he takes up as much space as an adult, he is still a child and children can often respond much more quickly to treatment.

Our best advice to you is to see if there are BAcC members local to you who also use Chinese Herbal medicine, and to see if they can offer you a brief face to face assessment of whether they believe tahat acupuncture and herbal treatment can help your son.

Q:  Would accupuncture cure edema ?  Ive got it on a delicate part of the body due to an operation which I had 4 months ago  and after two months edema developed. Ive tried to alleviate  it by wearing tight underwear and massaging it down with vaselinge.  It goes away in the afternoon and evening but it  appears again in the morning.  Ive tried accupuncture for my eczema and it clears it up.

A: The fact that you have had acupuncture for eczema and it has worked for what can be a very intractable condition is a very good sign, and means that if it could work, it probably would.

 The concern that we have, though, is what may be causing post-operative swelling. In the first instance we would have to say that you should see your GP and then try to get a referral back to the surgeon who performed the procedure on you. 'Delicate' narrows the range of procedures, but not enough for us to be able to offer specific comment. After an operation any swelling should be investigated. The fact that it goes down on massage is probably a sign that it is not a major problem, but without further detail we can't really say more.


As a general comment, where there are local weaknesses caused by operations, sometimes by the scarring and scar tissue caused by incision, acupuncture treatment applied locally can have a significant effect. This may be even more the case if there is an underlying systemic weakness which prevents healing from taking place as efficiently as one might hope. The first port of call, though, is your GP. 



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