Published on 03-16-2021
Rheumatoid Arthritis alone can be an incredibly difficult condition to live with. Unfortunately the underlying processes contributing to RA and the systemic effects of having RA may also lead to the development of a host of other conditions and issues. For example, women with RA are 40% more likely to develop endometriosis than women without RA. Besides issues such as painful menstrual cycles (dysmenorrhea) and excessive bleeding, endometriosis can also contribute to infertility, accordingly it is a very worthy issue to avoid.
Recently researchers from institutions such as Portland State University in the US and Tzu Chi University in Hualien Taiwan conducted a meta-analysis which included data from over a 10 year period. They were looking to see if regular acupuncture was helpful in avoiding the development of endometriosis in women with RA. In their study entitled, "The Relationship of Acupuncture Use to the Endometriosis Risk in Females With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Real-World Evidence From Population-Based Health Claims" the researchers looked at the health data of over 5500 women with RA to analyze the effectiveness of acupuncture in this regard.
Before I get into the results, it is important to note that acupuncture, generally speaking, has been shown useful for a very broad range of inflammatory conditions. So while this particular analysis looks at the avoidance of developing endometriosis, the actual treatment of the underlying issues is also a potential benefit of properly applied acupuncture. There are many positive clinical experiences, of course, and then other meta-analyses such as this one "Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review" which concluded that "acupuncture alone or combined with other treatment modalities is beneficial to the clinical conditions of RA without adverse effects reported and can improve function and quality of life".
As with all conditions, however, proper diagnosis in Chinese Medicine terms is what will dictate proper point selection and treatment approaches. Most of this is laid out in "What Does Acupuncture Treat?". While not directly related to RA, in our "Acupuncture for Arthritis" protocols page you will find a host of different "diagnoses" in Chinese Medicine terms. Through proper diagnostic procedures, a "diagnosis" in these terms would be found and then all treatment would be tailored to each individual at a given point in time to achieve the best results. I mention this only for you to have a broader perspective of the potentials of acupuncture even if limiting the development of endometriosis is enough for you.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective rheumatoid can be tricky to treat and really does require a deep look at the individual in TCM terms. Treatment can also require months to years even for the best long-term effects. From my experience diagnoses such as kidney yin deficiency (often liver and kidney yin) are common with RA as are damp heat patterns such as liver and gallbladder damp heat. Your responses overall will depend greatly on the skill of your practitioner and the accuracy of their diagnostic process. Your results will often depend as well on your willingness and ability to follow other recommendations from your practitioner such as certain dietary changes, lifestyle and exercise habit changes and whatever else they feel is important to adjust.
Now to return to the study at hand. The researchers in this meta-analysis found that acupuncture users had a 55% lower endometriosis risk. The further concluded that their "findings suggest that adding acupuncture to conventional therapy may decrease the subsequent endometriosis risk in female RA patients".
It's always important to mention that in studies, particularly meta-analyses, there are a whole host of results that they are not specifically looking for and in many cases a whole host of proper acupuncture procedures that are not followed to achieve a type of standardization (which if it's not clear from above, does not work well with acupuncture). So even positive analyses such as the one discussed here have to be looked at with critical analysis as they do not indicate the overall benefits of what can be accomplished in properly tailored and administered acupuncture for an individual. They are, however, good pointers to what conditions have shown enough positive results in real world circumstances to aid patients and non Chinese Medicine health practitioners in choosing when a referral to an acupuncturist may be warranted.
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