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Acupuncture and Multiple Sclerosis – Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that typically has indicators such as numbness, weakness, poor vision, lack of muscle coordination, poor bladder control and uncoordinated speech. Patients affected with the disease can either experience a benign or debilitating form of the disease, which in the latter case can be very devastating.

As an autoimmune disease, MS occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. The disease is inflammatory and affects the Central Nervous System (CNS). According to Hauser SL et al. the disease attacks myelin from myelinated axons in the CNS, destroying it to different extents.

MS progresses in an unpredictable way such that it may start out as token neurological problems that can be corrected. As time goes by, the disease almost always further attacks the CNS, causing neurological deterioration.

The good news is that acupuncture can deliver relief for multiple sclerosis related symptoms that include chronic pain, muscle spasm, numbness and tingling, urinary bladder issues and mood fluctuations. There is also evidence that acupuncture, along with Chinese herbs and nutritional guidance, can slow the progression of the disease as well as lessen the frequency of exacerbations.

Prevalence of the disease

A review of the disease by Singh VK et al. shows that the neurological disease affects a substantial number of the American population, with at least 250,000 people needing treatment. In their review of the condition, Navikas V and Link H found that 50% of these patients will need help moving around within 15 years.

Goldberg LD et al. has shown that the disease mostly affects young adults rather than older people. Cree BAC has also shown through research that the disease is most likely to show up in adults between the ages of 20 and 45. Very few cases of the disease occur in childhood or late midlife. In addition, the disease affects women twice as much as it does men, with persons of North European descent being highly predisposed to it.

Causes of the disease

The exact causes of the disease have not been established. However, the condition is brought about by a combination of non-genetic triggers as well as genetic vulnerability. Non-genetic triggers include metabolism, virus infections or environmental factors, all which may combine to cause the autoimmune disorder, which results in recurring immune attacks aimed at the CNS.

Signs and Symptoms of MS

The initial symptoms of the disease include:

  • Painful muscle spasms coupled with stiffness.
  • Vision impairment in the form of optic neuritis, double vision or blurred vision
  • Difficulty maintaining balance when walking.
  • Lasting dizziness
  • Numbness or itchiness in the face, arms, torso or legs
  • Inability to control the bladder.

As it progresses, MS could also exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty multitasking and concentrating
  • Shifting moods, for instance, euphoria or depression
  • Affects ability to plan and prioritize or make decisions about different aspects of life.
  • Physical as well as mental fatigue that comes with above mentioned symptoms when an attack occurs.

Types of Multiple Sclerosis affecting patients

Doctors have found that the disease affects patients in four different forms. Hauser SL et al. categorize these four types of MS as:

  1.  Primary progressive MS: this is a type of the disease affecting at least 10% of patients diagnosed with MS. Symptoms get worse from the onset without lessening such that there are no relapses. The disease may, however, reach a plateau phase occasionally. This form of MS is the most resistant to conventional medical treatments.
  2.  Relapsing-remitting MS: a most common form of the disease that affects 85% of patients. This type of MS is characterized by flare-ups, also known as exacerbations, after which the symptoms lessen or disappear altogether.
  3.  Progressive-relapsing MS: a very rare form of the disease that affects less than 5% of patients. In this case, symptoms show up and worsen with erratic flare-ups during the time. This type of MS has no remission periods.
  4.  Secondary progressive MS: typical affects patients with relapsing-remitting type of MS. The condition worsens whether there are remission and remitting stages or not. This type of the disease has no plateau stages where symptoms do not get severe. Many patients affected by this debilitating form of the disease use disease-modifying agents in treatment to delay advancement of the problem.

Western treatments for the disease

A review for efficacy of treatment for the disease by Pappas DJ and Oksenberg JR has identified more than 136 clinical trials currently ongoing for the treatment of MS, which the National MS Society has listed on their website. 8 treatment agents for relapsing form of the disease have already been approved by the FDA, including the following variations of interferon-beta:

  • Betaseron
  • Avonex
  • Rebif
  • Extavia

The first oral medication for treatment of the disorder called fingolimold (Gilenya) was also just recently approved. Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone), natalizumab (Tysabri) and mitoxantrone (Novantrone) have also been approved for treatment. The primary progressive form of the disease does not have any approved medications as yet.

Acupuncture and Multiple Sclerosis

Chinese medicine ideally refers to approaches like acupuncture and herbal remedies. The strategy here is always holistic – the practitioners of the craft attempt at looking at the root cause of problems rather than simply glossing over the symptoms as this could be the recipe for a relapse. The belief is that every patient out there has imbalances far beyond what Western medicine can see, and that is why there is always individualized attention.

In the case of multiple sclerosis, acupuncturists see patients as suffering a lot more than the symptoms show, and that is why they go beyond the surface to establish the root. This belief actually aligns with scientific thought, which makes a powerful argument for MS being not one disease but a spectrum of disorders.

When trying to treat MS, acupuncturists will insert needles in areas that share common functional relationships such as the liver, spleen and kidney channels. The needles are used to create a sense of balance and a positive flow of qi, which puts the patient on track for recovery.

When using acupuncture in MS, care needs to be taken in order to make sure that every patient has an approach tailored specifically for them. Jiang (2010) says that pulse and tongue diagnostic tests show that each specific MS patient has an underlying sense of disharmony that is unique to their set of symptoms. Jiang goes on to observe that patients who opt for both Chinese herbal remedies and acupuncture obtain relief much faster than those who choose just one modality, indicating the two have a synergistic effect.

If you’d like to learn more about acupuncture and how it can effectively treat the symptoms of MS, and get to the root cause of the problem, give us a call today at Boca Raton Acupuncture.