The Approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine Vis-à-Vis Dysmenorrhea
A lot of women experience painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) prior to, during, and after menstruation. The cramping is usually felt in the lower stomach although some women feel it in the lower back and sometimes, even down the legs. The painful symptoms can be different for each woman although they usually manifest as a constant, nagging pain or a sharp throbbing pain that often come and go. In severe dysmenorrhea, nausea and vomiting as well as lightheadedness can also occur. Recurrent dysmenorrhea affects about 50 percent of women and usually lasts one – three days and their symptoms can be mild to debilitating. Western medicine considers dysmenorrhea as merely a normal part of being a woman but in Chinese medicine, the symptoms indicate underlying imbalances that can be easily rectified.
According to Western medicine, high amounts of the hormone prostaglandin is responsible for menstrual cramping brought about by abnormal muscle contractions in the uterus that block the circulation of blood in parts of the uterus. This condition is classified into two types:
1. Primary dysmenorrhea – This condition starts from adolescence up to early adulthood and is connected with hormonal imbalances that cause severe uterine contractions.
2. Secondary dysmenorrhea – Women around their 30’s and 40’s are the ones most commonly affected by this condition. Other conditions that usually accompany secondary dysmenorrhea include fibroids, benign tumors (myomas), endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
The Western conventional treatment for hormonal imbalances causing dysmenorrhea and irregular menstruation involve the use of contraceptive pills. Doctors usually prescribe analgesics if no specific cause can be diagnosed for the menstrual pain.
There are two common Chinese Medicine approaches for gynecological conditions. The “organ energetics” approach is one popular approach that sprouted from recent developments in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The other is called the “channel energetics” approach that’s espoused by Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM). Among the two Chinese medicine systems, TCM is the more recent type (developed by the Communist Chinese government during the 1950s). TCM is not actually seen as a step forward but an abbreviated and oversimplified version of what Chinese medicine truly was before the communists came into power. During this time, China’s healthcare system was thrown into disarray and not enough practitioners were available to address the medical needs of the entire population. To address this shortage, the government truncated the apprenticeship training from ten years to three years of class room education that taught only less than half of the energetics of the body.
The body’s energetics is composed of more than 70 channels or meridians and 12 organ energetics that have their own specific energetics. TCM practitioners are only trained in just 12 organ energetics and fourteen meridians; that is, meridians connected to the twelve organs plus the two extra channels of Du and Ren. On the other hand, practitioners of CCM have been taught organ energetics plus the 70 plus recognized by Chinese medicine. In TCM, the signs and symptoms of a patient are deemed to be the result of organ energetics imbalances that can be rectified by restoring balance to the organ energetics. Organ energetics imbalances as well as the imbalances that occur in channel energetics are all recognized by CCM.
Why is it important to bring up these differences? Well, there are very fundamental dissimilarities in these approaches that transcend what has been already discussed here. Also, even though the TCM perspective of dysmenorrhea will be the one discussed here (since it is the one readers most usually read about), CCM needs to be mentioned in order for you to see how broad Chinese medicine really is and you not mistakenly believe that TCM is the entirety of Chinese medicine.
A healthy period, from the perspective of TCM, requires sufficient flow and volume of blood, aided by subtle energy or qi. The organ energetics meridians of the kidney, spleen, and liver as well as the Chong meridian energetics play a major role in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Liver qi, for example, aids in the smooth circulation of qi and blood. If emotional stress causes the stagnation of Liver, then blood cannot flow in sufficient amounts and this causes pain a day or two prior to menses. If there is stagnation in the Liver-blood, the menstruation will be accompanied by pain.
Chinese acupuncture based on TCM, basically strives to restore the smooth flow of qi and blood through the treatment of the Liver channel since it’s primarily aimed at the Liver channel that travels through the reproductive organs and genitalia. If a woman suffers from a TCM syndrome called “deficient blood,” acupuncture can be used to help transform her body resources into new blood. This is important because deficient blood implies there’s not enough blood in the body that can abet the smooth and even flow of blood resulting in sharp or dull pain.
Actually, dysmenorrhea and other gynecological conditions cannot be treated by Chinese medicine. What Chinese medicine actually does is restore and regulate the organ systems of the body and boost blood and qi flow in order to create an environment within the body that can set off the self-healing processes of the body. Chinese medicine practitioners adopt a naturalistic stance and after they conduct an exhaustive evaluation of the patient, arrange the signs and symptoms of a patient into basic patterns of imbalance. In a patient’s health presentation, there are usually multiple patterns of imbalance involved.
Patterns Associated with Dysmenorrhea Often Seen in TCM
1. Deficient Blood and Qi – Symptoms include dull pain felt during or after menses that improves with pressure and scanty menses.
2. Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation – Pain that worsens with pressure during menses or starts before or at the first day of menses and dark-red blood with clots.
3. Deficient Yang caused by Cold in the Uterus –Pain during or post menses that improves with heat and scanty pale bleeding.
4. Deficient Kidney and Liver Yin – Pain in the lower stomach and scanty thin menses.
5. Damp-Cold in the Uterus – Pain prior to or during menses that improves with heat and worsens with pressure; low back pain; and scanty and dark menses.
6. Damp-Heat in the Lower Stomach – Burning pain during menses; pelvic inflammation; and bright-red or yellowish and strong-smelling menses.
Acupuncture treatments in Overland Park based on TCM typically involve the use of Chinese herbs, and lifestyle and dietary modifications.