Expert Advice on Common Diseases
Expert Advice-Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):
Use Acupuncture for Interstitial
Over the last few years, I have seen more and
more people come to my clinic complaining of interstitial cystitis (let’s
call it “IC”). Many of them were referred by friends with IC who
have had a good response from acupuncture and herbs. Some of them
were referred by their doctors. More than 700,000 Americans are estimated
to have IC, and 90% of these are women.
So what is IC? That’s a simple question,
but the answer is difficult, because not much is known about the disease
from a scientific point of view. Even describing it can be difficult,
because people have different experiences with IC. Their symptoms
can vary a lot. The most common symptoms are urgent and frequent
urination, discomfort, and a feeling of pressure in the lower abdominal
area. There can also be intense pain in the bladder, even in the
whole pelvic area. Women with IC often experience with pain during
Although there are a group of symptoms which
can be called IC, there is no definitive test to identify IC, and the cause
of the disease is unknown. Some scientists think that it may be an
auto-immune response triggered by a bladder infection, or that it may have
multiple causes. Because of this uncertainty, it often happens that
a woman will suffer with IC for a long time, and never be diagnosed.
After tests rule out urinary tract infections, or structural abnormalities
of the pelvis, some women are told that it is just something in their mind
and put on antidepressants. People with IC are often frustrated because
they don’t get support from health professionals or from their family.
And even if they finally are diagnosed with IC, they will be told by their
doctor that there is no cure for it.
Can acupuncture and Chinese herbs help with
IC? Let’s look at Nikki’s case. When she first began to have
problems, Nikki was a 35-year-old school nurse with two young children.
She had a happy family and a career which she really liked, even though
it required a lot of driving from one school to another. The first
symptom was a “bladder infection” which was treated with antibiotics by
her doctor. Initially, she thought her bladder pain and urgency were
better, and the antibiotics seemed to be working. But gradually her
symptoms got worse again, and would not respond to the antibiotics at all.
After more than one year of struggling with her symptoms, and having multiple
tests from multiple specialists, Nikki was told that she had IC.
Nikki was finally referred to my clinic by
her doctor. She had been dealing with her IC for almost three years,
and could not continue to work any more. She had tried conventional
treatments including bladder distention, bladder instillation, and oral
drugs, but nothing really helped in the long run. During her initial
visit with me, she complained about pain in the pelvic area, burning urination,
frequency, and urgency. At the beginning it was very hard for her
to come for acupuncture treatments. It took her 45 minutes to drive
to my clinic from her home. She told me that she knew all the fast
food restaurants along her way, because she needed to go to the restroom
every 10-15 minutes. She had to stop at MacDonald’s, Burger King,
and Pizza Hut to get to my clinic. Even during the acupuncture treatments
at the beginning, I would just finish putting in needles, and she would
need to run to the bathroom, so I would have to take the needles out again
quickly. Her energy levels were so bad, she could not wait even one
minute. She also worried about her relationship with her husband,
because every time after they had intercourse, the intense pain and burning
sensation she experienced were so hard for her to handle that she had to
put ice cubes into her vaginal area.
Fortunately, Nikki responded to acupuncture
and Chinese herbs really fast. After a few weeks of treatment, her
pain was noticeably reduced. After another three months, she reported
that 80% of her symptoms had disappeared. I continued to see Nikki
for about a year, spacing out her treatments as she improved. An
important part of her treatment was to follow a good diet pattern.
I suggested that she avoid hot spices, caffeinated and citrus beverages,
tomatoes, and alcohol.
That was five years ago. Nikki resumed
her job and got back all the parts of her life that IC took away.
Now I see her once in a while, when she comes in for a tune-up. She
has been doing really well.
Not all patients with IC have the same response
as Nikki, especially long term and chronic cases. Some of them have
so much scar tissue on their bladder wall that a cure becomes very difficult.
But acupuncture and Chinese herbs can still help to relieve discomfort
and reduce pain, and improve their quality of life.
If you saw a traditional Chinese medicine
practitioner, he or she would evaluate you based on your primary complaint,
health history, general constitution, clinical symptoms, and pulse and
tongue diagnosis. Although traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) classifies
IC as “Lin Syndrome,” most patients have more than one imbalance, and different
individuals will manifest Lin Syndrome in different ways. TCM practitioners
must be skillful in distinguishing the correct TCM pattern in order to
select the most effective acupuncture points and herbal formulas.