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Acupuncture for Endometriosis


Endometriosis is a condition where the normal uterine lining (endometrium) begins to grow outside of the uterus. The uterine lining is the tissue that grows and sheds during each menstrual cycle, but this normal process becomes problematic when the tissue is growing outside of the uterus. The endometrium continues to respond to hormonal fluctuations during the cycle, and when a woman has her period, the blood that would normally leave the body becomes trapped. This commonly causes severe menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and may cause difficulties with fertility. It is a very common condition, effecting 6-10% of women of reproductive age, and up to 50% of women with infertility.

Clinical Signs

Lower back ache Dysmenorrhoea, painful periods (97%) Pelvic pain (62%) Heavy periods Irregular bleeding Infertility (47%) Pain with nausea, vomiting diarrhoea Pain on defaecation Fatigue (64%)

Western Medical Treatment

Women diagnosed with endometriosis are most commonly treated with painkillers to reduce pain symptoms and oral contraceptives (birth control pills) to reduce the severity of pain and heaviness of bleeding. When these treatments fail to provide relief, or have unacceptable side effects, more invasive procedures may be used, such as ablation, or removal of excess tissue. According to Western medical treatment, the only cure for endometriosis is hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus.

Acupuncture for Endometriosis

According to Eastern medical theories, endometriosis is considered an issue of improper blood circulation, or blood stasis. Treatment is focused on increasing blood circulation, and guiding these effects to the uterus, lower abdomen, and any other affected area. This is not so different from our Western understanding of the same disease. Since the maligned blood is located in an vicinity where normal blood flow is often absent or minimal, our body has a tougher time resolving it. The Chinese therefore say that these conglomerations of static blood have entered the network vessels, which are more difficult to reach. This is one important aspect in how we will approach this syndrome.

Acupuncture is able to understand endometriosis based on the differentiated clinical manifestations associated with each individual. It is important to diagnose the patient according to their own specific pattern. Each individual has a pattern that marks the foundation and progression of the disorder. Factors that are taken into consideration when determining the pattern for endometriosis include: emotional stress, anxiety, constitutional weakness, surgical history, exposure to cold temperatures especially during menstruation, diet, chronic illness or weakness.

Research into how Acupuncture can help Endometriosis

providing pain relief - by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Zhao 2008, Han 2004, Zijlstra 2003, Pomeranz 1987).reducing inflammation - by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003). Regulating levels of prostaglandins (Jin 2009)combining acupuncture with Chinese herbal medicine for endometriosis has been shown in animal studies to down-regulate the abnormal increase of matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) levels that is associated with ectopic activity of endometrial cells. The treated rats had reduced areas of ectopic tissue (Chen 2008). MMP-2 is required for the anchoring of the placenta to the uterine wall in pregnancy but over-production can lead to endometriosis.

How Can Acupuncture help?

Acupuncture treatment can significantly decrease the severity of endometriosis and its symptoms for most patients by providing pain relief and reducing inflammation. According to traditional acupuncture theories acupuncture works by regulating and moving blood in the uterus. Effects are cumulative, so longer term treatment is associated with greater improvement. Most patients report less pain after four weekly treatments, but changes in menstrual cycle regularity or fertility may require several months of regular acupuncture. It must be remembered that it takes time for the body to make the adjustments and changes that must occur within the reproductive body tissue.

To start with a typical treatment would be weekly treatments during at least 3 menstrual cycles. If you are looking for a quick fix and are not willing to dedicate to the necessary commitments stated above for at least 6 months, it would be advisable to opt for laser surgery and have the major scaring removed. Laser surgery has more of a 'bandage' effect, meaning, the displaced endometrial tissue usually grows back in time, and it will be necessary to revisit this style of treatment 1-2 times per year. If surgery is your choice, consider traditional acupuncture to help remain symptom free for longer periods of time between hospital visits.

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