There are now a growing number of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers seeking symptomatic relief via acupuncture treatment. While allopathic doctors use IBS diagnosis as a “one size fits all” system, Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM practitioners approach the condition on a symptom-by-symptom or case-to-case, individual basis. Veering away from the use of a conventional IBS diagnosis helps to avoid a blanket type of treatment. Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, what is often known as IBS is primarily the result of an infection in the gastrointestinal (GI) system. And infection, from the viewpoint of TCM, is often deemed to be due to pathogenic factors such as heat and dampness, either generated internally (i.e., internal injury from certain foods) or derived externally (i.e., from the weather).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome According to Western Medicine
Irritable Bowel Syndrome also referred to as “spastic colon,” is a functional bowel disorder. In this condition, both the large and small intestines do not function normally, even though diagnostic testing will confirm no occurrence of any structural damage. IBS is marked by changes in bowel habits and pain in the abdomen not related to any abnormalities shown on routine clinical testing. IBS is a fairly common condition and is responsible for 20% to 50% of consultations to gastroenterologists. It usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 and women are three times more likely to develop it than men.
IBS has two types: Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia and Lower Abdominal Pain IBS. The latter is often depicted as either IBS-C (constipation-predominant) or IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant). IBS-C or spastic colon presents with periodic constipation and pain over one or more region of the colon. This pain may be intermittent or continuous and is usually eased by bowel movement. The main symptom of IBS-D is diarrhea immediately after eating or right after waking combined with urinary incontinence, urgency, bloating and pain. IBS-A is a subtype of IBS that presents with alternating stool pattern (either constipation alternating with diarrhea or constipation alternating with normal stools). Mucus often accompanies the stools. Related symptoms include dyspepsia, nausea, gas, and bloating. These symptoms are often triggered by eating.
A new IBS subtype known as IBS-PI or post-infectious IBS is drawing much clinical research. Symptoms are usually set off by various factors including certain mental disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic pelvic pain, certain foods, emotional factors, and stress. Having no valid reason why this phenomenon occurs, it does fortify the belief that a psychological and neurological basis to IBS exists.
In an IBS condition, the role of hormones is not yet completely understood. The symptoms are usually triggered or exacerbated by menstruation, while pregnancy and menopause can either improve or aggravate symptoms. HRT (hormone replacement therapy) has been connected to a significant likelihood of developing IBS. The modalities used by Western medicine for IBS include stress reduction techniques, dietary changes, and anti-diarrhea or anti-spasmodic drugs.
IBS sufferers should develop a regular toilet schedule, stick to a regular eating habit composed of high fiber, avoid smoking, drink copious amounts of water every day, and avoid large and heavy meals that are high in fat. To relieve stress regular exercise is recommended. Stress is a factor that appears to worsen the disorder.
For IBS, Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM uses acupuncture to eliminate heat and dampness from within the system. Specific acupuncture points are selected along the energy channels of the large intestine and stomach. A majority of these points are found along the lateral side of the arms and legs and help clear the symptoms. Simultaneously, reinforcement methods to strengthen the immune system can be used, while stress-reducing procedures can alleviate stress that stops any future aggravation of the condition.
One other indispensable part of treatment is the use of Chinese herbs. In TCM, selected herbs are used alongside acupuncture to specifically address the unique constitution and symptoms of the patient. TCM therapy is individualized and addresses the specific needs of the patient. A licensed master herbalist will not prescribe the same exact herbal remedies to two or more patients. A “classical formula” is always used a as a foundation. Some of these formulas were written up more than 2,500 years ago and are still being used today.