Endometriosis and Acupunture

By Jacinta Eales


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Ever wondered what the deal is with this popular complementary therapy? Jacinta Eales (BHSc.Acu & Adv.Dip.Nut.Med) is an experienced acupuncturist with an interest in women's health and gynaecological conditions like endometriosis. Jacinta has previously attended QENDO's Brisbane North EndoMeet to answer questions and better understand the experiences of patients with endometriosis, and has donated her time to QENDO to share her knowledge. In this piece Jac takes us through how acupuncture can help endometriosis and what you can expect from a first consultation.

You’ve been diagnosed with endo and now you might be wondering “what next?”

I’m sure you have a treatment plan in place with the help of you GP and specialist, but maybe you are looking for more support, or different pain management options. That’s where acupuncture and Chinese medicine comes in.

How can Acupuncture help?

Recently, research has shown the many possibly mechanisms behind the effectiveness of acupuncture for multiple conditions. Listed below are some possible explanations about how acupuncture works. 

- When a needle is inserted into a point, the needle stimulates sensory (afferent) nerves (nerves which send signals from the peripheries to the brain), triggering a cascade that causes changes in the brain and the internal organs. One of the chemical reactions that occur after the insertion of an acupuncture needle is the release of adenosine, which is a neurotransmitter. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that is can depress the central nervous system and promote sleep. Adenosine also decreases heart rate, improves blood circulation to the heart, improves heart rate variability and acts as a local anti-inflammatory.

The signals sent to the brain via adenosine then regulate functions like digestion, cardiovascular function, immune responses etc. and in higher brain centers, modulates pain. 

- Acupuncture stimulates the release of the body's own natural painkillers, known as endogenous opioids. It also stimulates the release of molecules associated with tissue healing.

- Acupuncture produces antihistamine effects and down regulates pro inflammatory cytokines and pro inflammatory neuropeptides. Its also down regulates neurotrophins, which contribute to hypersensitivity and prolong the inflammatory response.

- Acupuncture regulates the HPA axis and balances the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems (the sympathetic nervous system is often over stimulates when disease/illness is present).

The Chinese medicine view of Endometriosis

When you go to see an Acupuncturist you may hear a few terms that you haven’t heard in your doctor’s office. Terms like “Blood Stagnation”, “Yang Deficiency”, or “Damp Obstruction”, may be heard and make you wonder what on earth they are talking about. These are simply terms used by Chinese medicine practitioners to further pinpoint your TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) diagnosis. You see, not everyone that has endometriosis will have the same TCM diagnosis. This is why we ask, what feels like, a million questions.  

Chinese medicine can help address other symptoms you may be experiencing such as high stress levels, changes in sleep habits, and low energy as it recognizes the multifaceted condition that is endometriosis.

What to expect when you see an Acupuncturist

First treatment

During the first consultation your practitioner will take a very detailed case history. They may even ask you questions dating way back before you began to experience any Endo related symptoms. This helps us to understand your body in greater detail and develop a treatment plan based entirely on how your particular condition presents itself. 

Your practitioner will want to know everything about you and your life. Questions around stress, sleep, digestion, energy levels, emotions, previous medical history and any significant life events are usually all addressed in the first consultation. Be prepared for a long chat. Remember, Chinese medicine views your body as one big interconnected machine.

After a big long chat, you will also get your first acupuncture treatment!

What happens during treatments and do the needles hurt?

After the first long consultation, follow up appointments are often a little bit shorter as the practitioner will already know what is happening in your body. They will often ask a few specific questions to see how you have been, check your tongue and pulse and then get you straight on the table for some zen time. 

In terms of needling sensation, most of my clients would say there is no pain. Sometimes they may feel a dull throb or ache at the site of the needle although it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Occasionally you might a little prick when the needle is inserted but this usually settles in the first 30 seconds. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, let the practitioner know! They want to make sure you feel safe and relaxed during your sessions.

How many treatments are needed?

There is no set number of sessions. It will all depend on how your body responds to the treatment. I often recommend women to come in twice a week for the first 4 weeks and then if everything is tracking along nicely, we change to once a week for another 4 weeks. 

Current research around acupuncture and endometriosis

The most recent research conducted around acupuncture for endometriosis was conducted very recently, with the study run by Dr Mike Armour from Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute (NICM). The study has found that the women in the acupuncture group experienced a 42% reduction in pelvic pain after eight weeks of treatment. They also found reductions in the EHP-30 (endometriosis health profile questionnaire). This is pretty cool information! Imagine less pain and better quality of life scores. 

If you are curious about acupuncture or have any questions at all, I am always happy to help in any way I can. I can be contacted at Jacinta@acupunctureaus.com or by my website, www.acupunctureaus.com.

References:

  • Evidence Based Acupuncture. (2019). Acupuncture: An Overview of Scientific Evidence. [online] Available at: https://www.evidencebasedacupuncture.org/acupuncture-scientific-evidence/ [Accessed 15 Aug. 2019].

  • Cochrane S et al, March 2014 Volume 2014: 6 Pages 313—325 International Journal of Women’s Health

  • Kong S et al, Volume (2014), Article ID 146383, 16 pages Evidence-Based Comp and Alternative Medicine

  • Armour M, Dahlen HG, Zhu X, Farquhar C, Smith CA (2017) The role of treatment timing and mode of stimulation in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea with acupuncture:An exploratory randomised controlled trial. PLOS ONE 12(7):     e0180177.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180177

  • McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (Revised Edition). Brisbane: Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

  • Lim CED et al, Aust J Acupunct Chin Med 2009;4(2):12-17. Australian Journal Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

  • MSD Professional version   Endometriosis http://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/endometriosis/endometriosis  (accessed 20 November 2016)

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