Success Stories from the Acupuncture Clinic: Headaches, Chronic Fatigue
Every so often, I like to share case studies from the clinic to not only give people a better idea of how acupuncture works, but also what they can expect from their treatments.
Most people are surprised by all that acupuncture can treat, since mostly people hear only about its effectiveness for pain.
Below are case outlines of 2 patients that I am currently treating; one using acupuncture for headaches, the other using acupuncture for chronic fatigue.
The names have been changed for confidentiality.
Acupuncture for Headaches:
Janet first came for acupuncture over the summer for headaches that were becoming common enough that she was taking high dosages of OTC pain meds many days per week.
At first, these were working to mostly resolve her headaches, but by the time she came to see me, they no longer were. Also, during her period, they would be worse, and more and more commonly were migraines that were keeping her home from work.
Once I talked to her, I discovered that headaches were not her only issue. She also had a weak digestion, and while she wasn’t aware of her digestive issues because her only symptoms were slightly loose stools with no pain or other problems, I knew that this was at the root of her issues.
She also had been feeling abnormally tired over the past year as her headaches had worsened, which she had just attributed to the headaches.
I explained that it was likely the other way around: that her weak digestion was resulting in decreased nutrient absorption and therefore decreased energy (Qi) and vitality. This was leaving the rest of her organs depleted, and it was this depletion that was causing the imbalances that were resulting in headaches.
Also, when she lost a lot of blood around what I discovered were too heavy periods, that resulted in even less nutrients for her body and weakened her further, making her headaches worse and even causing migraines.
Treatment and results:
We immediately put her on a twice per week acupuncture treatment regimen, which she was to continue until her headaches improved.
After three weeks, her headaches had improved to such an extent that we went down to once per week treatments.
Also, by the time her first menstrual cycle after starting acupuncture came around, she did not get a migraine. We also started her on herbs shortly after beginning acupuncture treatment, for the purpose of nourishing her Qi, blood, and vitality by improving her digestion.
By the second week of treatment her energy had vastly improved, as well as her stools becoming normal and no longer loose.
I also gave her a nutrition program to follow which includes foods that are beneficial to aiding her weak digestion and nourishing her vitality. As these foods are currently the ones that are in season, she is being prescribed to focus on eating as many of these seasonal foods as possible throughout the coming cold months.
Janet is now coming only once per month as her headaches have resolved, or has been advised to schedule an appointment between monthly sessions if she does get a headache, as a treatment can usually resolve a current headache. She has much more energy, her periods are not as heavy, and her digestion has improved. She is a very typical patient struggling with challenges often seen in the acupuncture clinic.
Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue:
Stacey began seeing me for acupuncture in the spring of this year for Chronic Fatigue that she had had for 5 years, and which was not only not improving but was getting worse.
At the beginning of her illness she had had a positive test for Epstein-Barr virus. She not only had fatigue, but as is common with most patients with Chronic Fatigue, she had other severe symptoms.
Hers included severe brain fog to the point that she was not able to carry out simple tasks such as managing her family’s finances and organizing and arranging her teenage children’s schedules; migrating pain; abdominal pain with severe bloating and inconsistent bowel movements; severe headaches; chronic congestion with post-nasal drip; and chronic yeast and other fungal infections throughout her body.
Of course, with all these symptoms she was quite depressed as well, even though before this she reports she was always one of the most positive and cheerful people she knew.
Upon further questioning, I discovered that all these symptoms had arisen shortly after taking a few rounds of high-dose antibiotics. I diagnosed her with severe digestive impairment or weakness (what we call “spleen qi deficiency” in Chinese medicine) caused by the antibiotics, leading to decreased Wei Qi, or immune function.
Like Janet above, the thing that was going to help Stacey feel better was to heal her digestion. I immediately urged to her to get her gluten sensitivity tested as well as food sensitivities, so we could pinpoint foods which may be further harming her digestion and creating inflammation, clogging, sludginess, and her tired heaviness.
At the same time, I put her on herbs that would nourish her body while clearing out excess clogging (what we call “dampness”) and any potential latent pathogens like viruses or parasites. I prescribed foods which would help heal and nourish her digestion.
Treatment and results:
After about a month of twice weekly treatments, her congestion and stools had improved dramatically, while her energy was about 20% improved.
Her pain was the first thing she noticed improving the most, and reported that she was mostly pain-free unless she “overdid it” on days when her energy was improved enough that she wanted to do many things she hadn’t been able to for a long time, such as putting in a garden.
She was also able to resume much more of the management of her home and finances at this time.
After a couple months her yeast infections were gone.
After about 3 months her energy had improved to the point that her depression had gone away and life was starting to feel “normal” again, although she was still fatigued enough that she would take daily naps.
We are now 6 months into treatment, and she reports overall being about 80-90% better than when she came in. I see her for twice per month treatments and she continues to take the herbs, which I will have her continue even after her regular treatments, to help clear out any latent pathogens like viruses that she is continuing to fight. Soon we are going to switch to once per month treatments as she is overall much improved and her diagnostic signs reveal that her system is much stronger and more stable.
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Different symptoms, similar treatment
While both of these patients are coming in for completely different symptoms, you can see that at the root of all of them is a problem with their digestion.
Therefore, their treatment did not differ much. Unlike a western approach, where diagnosis and treatment primarily remains around the chief complaint, a Chinese approach takes a look at their entire body and treats the underlying cause which is causing all the symptoms.
Often, we are not even treating what a person thinks is needing to be treated, as you notice that neither of these patients came in for digestive complaints as their main issue.
Regardless of where someone is in their state of imbalance, the goal is always, no matter what the symptom, to push them further towards the side of balance, helping alleviate not only current symptoms, but setting them up for a healthier future.