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Can acupuncture help with spino cerebellum atrophy 6 (SCA6)

Q: In the last year I have been diagnosed with an inherited condition called spino cerebellum atrophy 6 (SCA6). One of the symptoms is nystagmus which sometimes means reading is difficult. Could acupuncture or acupressure help with either condition? If so, is there a practitioner in West London who might specialise in such conditions?

A:  We are always a little wary about answering questions about hereditary conditions, especially ones like yours where the condition is genetic and where there are few recorded instances of reversal of the symptoms, although several accounts of supportive treatments which reduce the rate of deterioration.

 The reason that we are cautious is that from a Chinese medicine perspective, where there was and is no concept of genes but often a very strong sense of patterns of energy being passed down from generation to generation, there are occasions when a hereditary pattern like migraine or asthma can be addressed successfully when the energetic 'glitch' is treated. However, our practical experience is that where the conditions are genetic and inherited, rather than energetic dispositions to certain problems, there is less chance of success. You can find a number of Chinese studies of the treatment of cerebellar ataxia which make very encouraging noises, but these are mainly stroke or accident related occurrences which have a more obvious and potentially treatable cause.

 Having said all that, there is no doubt that many of the symptoms of conditions like SCA6 can be successfully mapped onto the diagnostic categories of Chinese medicine, and it may be possible to help reduce the severity of some of the effects of the condition. A great deal depends on the causal pathway. There are occasions when the symptom is not a directly caused problem but the consequence of an earlier part of the 'chain' being disrupted. If this is so, then treatment may be worth considering, even if only for the fact that the general well-being associated with the use of traditional acupuncture may make someone's attitude and response to their condition improve.

 We think the best thing to do, given that we are not in a position to assess the Chinese medicine diagnostic patterns or the symptom presentation that you have, is for you to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief informal assessment of what may be possible. Most of us are happy to give up a small amount of time without charge to assess whether treatment would be worthwhile, and this gives the patient a chance to meet the practitioner and see where they work before committing to treatment. There are no specialists in this particular field, or indeed in very few fields with the exception of paediatrics and obstetrics. Chinese medicine is by its very nature generalist, and all of our members are equally well qualified to treat the greater majority of patients who come to their clinics. 

 The one thing we would say, though, is to try to set measurable outcomes if you do decide to have treatment and to ensure that progress is reviewed regularly. It is quite easy to run up a large number of treatments without realising one has done so, and if there has been no real progress this can be a cause of some frustration. Better, in our view, to keep a careful eye on progress, or lack of it, and make decisions about carrying on on a clear basis.

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