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Success Story from the Acupuncture Clinic: A Gastroenterologist with IBS

This month, I’ve had the joy to work with a western medical specialist, who decided to specialize in gastroenterology because of her own lifelong digestive struggles. This is a story of someone who in only one month of acupuncture went from having painful digestive problems her whole life, to being often free from symptoms.

The results of her treatment have contributed to the growing bridge between western and alternative health care providers who are seeing the benefits of working together so their patients have access to the best treatment options available.

Background of IBS

When this doctor was young there was no understanding of IBS, so she just went undiagnosed for much of her young adult life. Some doctors even told her that her symptoms were all in her head, since they couldn’t find anything wrong.

Since she has always self-identified as “high strung” and knows she’s prone to anxiety, she often wondered if she actually was just making the symptoms up. This confusion and the continued pain with no relief, led her to where she is today, working as a doctor with others who suffer from the same problem.

Unfortunately, learning all she could about the best of western medicine has done little to help her symptoms. She’s tried all the medications she gives her patients, and while some brought a little relief, none were worth the trade-off of side effects that caused more problems than they did to alleviate her digestive symptoms.

By the time she made it into my office, she was already disillusioned with her medicine and all she’d been taught in medical school about western medicine being the “one” “right” “gold standard” of medicine. She just sees too many patients who seem to get more relief from alternative medicine than from “real” western medicine. So she decided to try it out herself.

Acupuncture Treatment and IBS

The immediate thing she noticed was different during her first appointment, was that after I listened to all her digestive symptoms, I then spent another 1/2 hour focusing on the rest of her body. I asked about her piercing headaches, her history of irregular and painful periods (she is now through menopause), how her anxiety specifically shows up in her body, her insomnia, her lack of thirst and the fact that she feels freezing cold all the time.

In her world of medicine, all these things were completely irrelevant to dealing with the main complaint of digestive problems.

Results of Acupuncture Treatment

While I knew I would need to get this patient on herbs in order to have lasting results, I also knew that many patients of this “high strung” type tend to respond amazingly well and quickly to acupuncture alone. Sure enough, she followed this pattern.

She had two acupuncture treatments that first week.

She came back the following week and the first thing she said was “will you pinch me?”. She explained that she was nervous to get too hopeful, but that she’d had her first “normal poop” in 30 years after her second treatment. There had been no pain involved, it was quick and uneventful. Her bloating had massively decreased as well. She had no abdominal pain after eating as she always does.

She had also noticed feeling much more calm, and her sleep had improved a little. She hadn’t had a headache either, which she would usually get every Sunday as the stress of the workweek loomed.

Since she was responding so quickly, we went down to once/week appointments.

At the time of writing this post she has come in for only 5 appointments, and her digestive problems that have plagued her her entire life are about 80% improved.

She has only had one headache since we started, and it was less intense and didn’t keep her from falling asleep. Her sleep in general has improved about 50%. She has not had any panic attacks, and when she feels herself getting nervous she’s much more able to use breathing to calm herself down. Her thirst has also normalized, as she now finds herself wanting water after her workouts.

Chinese Medicine Diagnosis

Hers is a classic case of “Liver Qi Stagnation” with “Internal Cold”. To learn about Liver imbalance you can check out my blogs under the “Wood Element” category which relate to the liver.

Liver/Wood types tend towards stress and anxiety, which causes their whole body to tense up, including their organs and connective tissues. This causes related symptoms throughout the entire body that can show up as her exact symptoms and more: headaches, period pain, digestive issues, anxiety, insomnia, etc.

The fact that she had this internal cold made her “middle” (digestive organs) like an ice block, which hardens her tissues even more, causing more stagnation, and stagnation = pain from a Chinese medicine perspective. I instructed her to avoid all cold and raw foods, and to focus on foods with gently warming spices such as ginger, garlic, onions, cinnamon, cloves, etc. She did confirm that cold foods would dramatically trigger her IBS pain, but she’d never understood why.

Her internal cold also made her averse to drinking water, and the lack of fluids then dried her up, only making her insides even more stiff and “brittle”, and contributing more to constipation.

Summary of acupuncture treatment for IBS

While I do tend to find IBS is one of the easier things to treat with Chinese medicine, hers was a particularly easy and fast case. We will continue seeing her every other week until her other symptoms improve more and her tongue & pulse diagnosis give me internal evidence that she’s significantly more balanced; then we’ll move into monthly treatments until we see she no longer needs the support of Chinese medicine.

The most inspiring thing for both of us is the fact that although she’s a western doctor, her eyes are now open to the fact that no single form of medicine has all the answers. Despite her training that told her that western medicine is the only “real” medicine, she now sees that Chinese medicine is not only just as legitimate, but maybe even more effective for dealing with chronic health issues.

She now feels reinvigorated in her own practice, since she has personal experience with tools she can share with her patients, through referring them to other providers who might be a huge asset as part of her patient’s health care team.