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Expert Advice-Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):
Interstitial Cysititis  

Use Acupuncture for Interstitial Cystitis

     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 sexual intercourse.
     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.