Ask an expert - general

235 questions

Q. I was diagnosed with pneumonia on 1 June 2012, following 4 weeks of antibiotics along with a 10 day course of steroids I am suffering from a number of side effects i.e. cold sweats and acidic heartburn along with dark spots on my feet. Can you possibly give me an idea of what organs may have taken their tole following my illness and what these symptoms may mean.

 

A. We always advise our members to be very cautious with questions like yours. Symptoms will be the common denominator for all medical systems. What they mean, however, is often understood in an entirely different way, and if practitioners aren't careful they can alarm or worry patients.

 

Take the term 'organ', for example. In Western medicine these are solid masses of specialised tissue which undertake specific and well-defined physiological functions. In Chinese medicine, however, an organ is more than simply a physical entity with physical functions; it also has mental, emotional and spiritual functions. This is what we talk about when we speak of body, mind and spirit being inseparable. An organ which is damaged or working below par could manifest symptoms on any or all of these levels. This is why Chinese medicine textbooks always capitalise the organ, the Liver, as opposed to the organ described in western medical terms, the liver. There is obviously some overlap, but if a Chinese medicine practitioner says 'your Liver has been affected by your illness' this does not mean the patient should make a headlong rush to casualty to get their hepatic functions assessed.

 

Chinese medicine is also premised on complex inter-relationships. Any Organ which malfunctions will affect all of the other Organs to a greater or lesser extent, and any one of these could manifest symptoms as a consequence. You can see immediately that what the symptom means could be very different. It may be clearly identifiable with one part of the system, as in, say, acid reflux which is clearly located in the stomach, but that does not mean that it is the Stomach (note the capital!) which is malfunctioning. There are several clearly defined syndromes which can cause acid reflux where the problem lies elsewhere, and being able to deal with the cause, not the manifestation, is the practitioner's aim. This means that the symptom will stay gone, not simply go away for a short while.

 

So, the rather woolly but correct answer to your question is that all of the Organs have probably been affected to some extent, either directly by the pneumonia and its treatment or indirectly because of the disruption to your internal balance. Similarly this means that your symptoms will only make sense, from a Chinese medicine perspective, when seen in the context of your overall presentation and of the diagnostic signs specific to Chinese medicine, tongue and pulse, for example.

 

Our best advice, if you want to get a clearer understanding of what is going on from a Chinese perspective, is to visit a BAcC member local to you and ask if they would be happy to give you a short consultation, hopefully without charge, in which they can assess what may be going on and give you an idea of whether Chinese medicine may be of benefit to you.

This sounds very distressing, and we're sorry to hear that your ability to get out and about has been so badly affected.

 

Because acupuncture is based on an entirely different set of theories and principles to western medicine, it is quite difficult to say 'acupuncture treats oedema' because from a Chinese perspective you'd want to know where the oedema is, what kind of oedema it is, what else is going on in the system, what medications you're taking, and so on. It is certainly true that the Chinese have for over two thouand years some very sophisticated ways of explaining in terms of body energies why fluids gather, and equally sophisticated ways of trying to help them disperse.

 

If the oedema has progressed as far as it has in your case, though, there are one or two concerns. First is that needling into an oedematous area itself carries an increased risk of infection. It is not uncommon that any needling, eastern or western, causes the visible loss of fluids, and the skin tends not to 'close' with the same elasticity when a needle is removed. The risk of cellulitis and other painful infections is increased.

 

Second is that, like weight loss, it is highly unlikely that acupuncture is the only treatment option being explored, and even with the best possible outcomes the loss of fluid will take weeks or possibly months. If several routes are being tried simultaneously it is often difficult to establish which is effective, or whether it is the combination of all of them. From the perspective of the patient in distress this is not usually a problem, but professionally we like our members to be able to be very clear that they believe there are good grounds for believing within our own diagnostic assessment processes that the acupuncture is having a measurable effect.

 

The one practical problem we foresee is that you might have difficulty getting to a practitioner, and may need home visits. For a variety of reasons many members do not offer this facility, and it may take a while to establish whether anyone can get to you. We don't routinely record who does and doesn't work in this way.

 

It might also be worth mentioning that a number of our members are also members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. Chinese Herbal Medicine is based on the same broad principles as acupuncture treatment, and you may find that aranging a visit with a herbalist who can prescribe herbal medicines which you can take daily may be a very satisfactory alternative.

 

Our advice is to contact a BAcC member local to you and ask theit advice on treatment, home visits and possibly dual-registered practitioners in your area. We are sure that they will do their very best to see that you can find some help for your problems.

Q. Hi, I have been having acupuncture to help with my fertility aswe had bern trying for 2 and 1/2 years and feel pregnant after 3 sessions. My energy was very low ad increased after the first 3 sessions I took Chinese herbs too. Having fallen pregnant I ave carried on with acupuncture. I am 11 weeks and was told by my acupuncturist that my pulse isn't as strong as she would like it to be. Just s but anxious as to what this means? Am now taking more herbs to help.

 

A. When you spend your whole time practising Chinese medicine it is easy to forget sometimes that the people to whom you are talking, which is most often patients, are not quite so well trained or savvy as you are. Pulse taking is a subjective as well as objective art and skill, and most practitioners have in mind a sense of what a good strong pulse will be for each individual. This will differ greatly for an 80-year old granny and a teenage athlete, and the practitioner will often find on taking on a patient that the whole system is a bit run down and needs to be brought back to the best possible balance and health.

We suspect that all your practitioner is saying is that after the years of trying for a child and while adjusting to the early stages of pregnancy your energy has probably dipped a little, and she believes that her role is to ensure that it is as strong as possible for a successful and happy pregnancy. The strains of modern life mean that the majority of people, including sometimes ourselves, are not as well-balanced as we could be, and this means our pulses are probably not as strong as our practitioners would like. There is nothing to worry about in this. If the practitioner had serious concerns about anything, as a responsible professional she would already have raised these with you and referred you to your doctor.

One small note of concern, though, is that you said you are taking more herbs to help. We weren't quite sure whether this was at the practitioner's suggestion or whether you were increasing your own dose because you were worried that you needed boosting. If it is the latter it would be a good idea to check with your practitioner if this is OK.

Q: Can acupuncture help with circulation disorders? I've had a varicose vain surgery about 10 years ago, but it didn't resolve the problem of re-appearing spider vains and pain in my lower left leg. Pain is currently managed by antistax, but I'm searching for a solution to the problem itself

 

A: This question highlights a major difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Varicose veins are a very common problem for which western medicine usually only recommends surgery, in the form of stripping along with a few newer techniques involving laser work, or continuing management with medication and various forms of support hose. From a Chinese medicine perspective, though, the cause is seen to lie in a failure of body's energetic functions which maintain good circulation and which promote the body's internal 'gravity' in the form of the upward movement of energy, or 'qi' as it is named in Chinese thought. Being able to identify functional disturbances is not in itself enough to go straight ahead with treatment, however; the practitioner needs to elicit whether these functional disturbances are the primary problem or a reflection and response to other disharmonies in the system. This differentiation often determines whether the treatment will provide short or longer term relief, and is one reason by symptomatic treatment is not something we encourage. In short, though, Chinese's medicines understanding of the same symptoms in functional terms can inform and underpin treatment aimed at reducing the causes of varicose vein formation and development. 
 
There is, of course, very little research evidence of the kind accepted in the West (although many thousands of untranslated studies are done in China each year), and it would be fair to say that by the time most patients with varicose veins or spider veins consult an acupuncturist the problems are often well advanced. However, the small amount of research which does exist suggests that acupuncture treatment may be effective in reducing some of the pain which people experience, although the characteristic knobbly lumps and bumps which people have are relatively intractable.

 

 

 

We advise you to contact a BAcC member local to you to seek their advice on what can be done and what your reasonable expectations might be. It is a sad reflection on modern times that there are many people offering cures for problems which are not amenable to cure, and complementary medicine is no stranger to the 'magic solutions'. Our members, however, are trained to ensure that they do not offer false or unrealistic expectations.

 

 

 

As well as acupuncture treatment you may well find that your practitioner makes a number of recommendations about diet and exercise to help maintain any improvements in your circulation. An American acupuncture website which is generally well respected has articles such as this

 

 

 

 http://www.acupuncture.com/newsletters/m_aug10/varicoseveins.htm

 

 

which point to a number of simple exercises which might augment any treatment (although we canot comment on the herbs and lotions mentioned since these fall beyond our scope of practice)

There is some evidence that acupuncture may be of benefit in treating bedwetting in children
 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15791606
 
but as is the case with a great deal of the research which is conducted in China, it often falls below the standards required for acceptance in the west. Invariably authors of systematic reviews such as this will make generally encouraging noise about meriting further research, but until and unless major funding is provided for such studies the evidence will remain thin.
 
However, Chinese medicine has been dealing with problems such as this for over two thousand years, and operates from an entirely different theoretical base in understanding how the body functions. This is expressed in the concept of energy, 'qi', and its balance in and flow around the body, and uses concepts such as 'yin' and 'yang' which we're sure you've come across. There will be a number of ways of understanding the balance of the functional relationships in the body which might explain the symptoms, and the practitioner's skill is used to ensure that the treatment not only resolves the symptom but tries to deal with underlying patterns of imbalance to stop their recurrence.
 
One note of caution is that although we do not recognise 'experts' in treating particular diseases or patient groups, there is no doubt that children are not simply 'little adults', and the consensus is emerging that some of the diagnostic conclusions and ways of treating are slightly different from the adult versions of the same problems. A growing number of members now seek postgraduate training in paediatric acupuncture, and while we would not say that someone without this training may not be able to help you, we believe that we are fast approaching the point where we say to a prospective patient that we would expect someone who focuses their work on children to have made the effort to undertake further study, be it in the form of a course or a programme of self-study.
 
Our best advice is to ask a BAcC member local to you whether they or someone they know focuses their work on treating children, and failing that to use 'google' and search under 'acupunture treatment of children' alongside where you live. Many of our members now have their own websites, and usually mention their areas of primary focus (children, pregnancy and fertility, if they have them.

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