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Role of acupuncture in the treatment of female infertility

Overview of Chinese Gynecology

Chinese Gynecology means the diagnosis and treatment of physical and emotional problems of women by the application of the theories and techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Gynecology was established as an official medical specialty in China during the Song Dynasty over one thousand years ago. The current principles and methods used in modern China to treat gynecology, incorporated both traditional Chinese medicine as well as the more modern Western medical paradigm, which is most beneficial to the patients.

The Comparison of Chinese and Western gynecology medicine immediately reveals three major areas of difference: the diagnosis, the treatment, and the problems to which they are applicable.

Taking the last area first will go a long way toward explaining the reasons for the difference of the other two. Western gynecology, and indeed Western medicine, deals in general with problems of structure,“organic” diseases detectable by visual or microscopic examination of the tissues of the organs involved. Treatment consists of repair, excision, replacement of the diseased tissue, or identification and destruction of an invading pathogen. The advantages of such an approach are certainty of diagnosis, when the tissues have in fact already been affected, and focused treatment. The disadvantages of this approach become apparent when the disease has not yet reached the stage of tissue damage, in which case diagnostic tests are often inconclusive, and treatment hampered or impossible because of the inability to define just what the problem is, such as unexplained infertility.

It is precisely this area, however, to which Chinese gynecology and Chinese medicine, in general, addresses itself: the realm of functional disorder, a lack of coordination somewhere in the vast, finely-turned biosystem of the body, which may not as yet have perceptibly damaged the body structurally. Endometriosis, for example, does not just happen overnight. In Chinese gynecology, attention is directed to the regularity, amount, color, and texture of the menstrual flow abnormalities corrected as they arise. PMS and menstrual pain are considered pathological in China, and are treated and cured.


Chinese gynecology traditionally treats:


Menstrual disorders

Menstrual disorders (including shortened or lengthened cycle), menstrual irregularity, excess or insufficient amount of flow, amenorrhea, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, PMS, endometriosis, yeast infection, menstrual pain, infertility, and menopause.


Chinese obstetrics, while nowadays relinquishing supervision of delivery to Western medicine, concerns itself with functional problems in pregnancy, such as morning sickness, threatened abortion, abdominal or lumbar pain, water retention, hypertension, breach baby, diabetes, and depression.

The length of a course of treatment ranges from as short as one or two weeks in cases like vaginal discharge to three months for dysmenorrhea, or even up to a year or longer in treatments for infertility. The average treatments may be slower than with Western medicine because of the more conservative methods employed by the physicians of Chinese gynecology. But it is safe and there are no side effects.


Diagnosis in modern Chinese gynecology involves a gynecologic examination, as performed in Western gynecology. And the findings of such exams are taken into account in determining the nature of the problem (especially in modern Chinese gynecology). This is because the results of such an exam describe the status of the structure of the tissue examined, while as we have seen, the interest of the Chinese physician is directed primarily at the status of the functioning of the organism.

It is as if a house were inhabited by a quarreling family. One would like to intervene before the structure of the house was damaged, the windows smashed, and doors ripped from their hinges. In addition, the earlier the intervention, the less drastic it need be. If one waits, however, until the house is burning down, a whole team of experts may be necessary to save it, or a part of it.

Diagnosis of the functioning of the organism involves attention to the symptoms of the patients. For example, what kind of pain or tension, where and when, the presence or absence of thirst, perspiration, dizziness, tinnitus, emotional upset or stress, attention to food intake, functioning of bowels and urination, the menstrual flow, the condition of the home and work environments, etc.

These findings are combined with observations made by the physician of the complexion and build of the patient, the tongue and later palpation of the pulse at both wrists, and possibly palpation of specific points around the body, which become characteristically tender in certain diseases.

The correlation of all the results of such a procedure is accomplished by means of Chinese medical theory. While the terms employed may sound prosaic in translation, they are in fact technical descriptions of the functional status of the organism, with precise definitions and applications. The use of these technical terms allows the choice to be made of therapeutic agents, whose function is described in similar terms.

For example, a woman with dysmenorrhea may complain of cold aching pain in the abdomen before and during her periods, coupled with a clotted, unsteady menstrual flow, slow pulse, and a white tongue coat. Such a woman may be described as suffering from Cold in the uterus a highly unusual diagnosis from a Western point of view, but one which in Chinese terms allows the selection of herbs with a warming action or a technique such as moxibustion, which can then be applied in such a way as to relieve the woman's pain and prevent its recurrence.


Chinese Medicine has a wide range of therapeutic techniques at its disposal, including herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, diet, massage, and specialized exercises, some of which involve breath training. Each of these techniques is a field of study with its own specialists, although the training of every Chinese doctor includes at least some introduction to their principles and applications.

However, herbs and acupuncture are by far the predominant modes of therapy in Chinese medicine. Herbs can be applied in decoction (like soups), in powders, pills, plasters, and syrups. Modern dosage forms include instant preparations, ampules, capsules, and even IV drip for emergencies. The most common form, however, still remains the decoction.

Chinese herbs are rarely prescribed by themselves. Following diagnosis, a standard prescription is chosen for the condition, and then sculpted by the addition or deletion of different, but related herbs, until the formula exactly suits the state of the individual patient. The effect of the prescription upon the patient is determined at the next consultation and the herbs again adjusted accordingly.

For the reasons outlined above, Chinese gynecology can be seen to provide a viable complement to Western medicine, in an area where it is much needed. It supplies a comprehensive framework for the classification and treatment of the vague amorphous symptoms accompanying a functional disorder, by re-establishing the proper functioning of the organism with methods both more gentle and more subtle than contemporary medicine can offer. Moreover, when necessary, it's noninvasive, conservative treatment combines well with standard Western medical techniques, as for example in the treatment of structural disease or the side effects of more drastic therapies.


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