Fatigue

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8 10, 2010

Chronic Fatigue

Fatigue is a feeling that most of us have probably experienced at one time or another. Whether from stress, poor eating habits, sleep deprivation, overwork, or even medical treatments, fatigue often has a lot to do with our habits and routines, though it can sometimes be caused by an underlying medical condition. But sometimes in spite of what we do, fatigue can become an ongoing problem. In severe cases, it may be diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, a complicated disorder without obvious onset or causes.

Fatigue in Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes both chronic fatigue syndrome, and short-term or ongoing fatigue. Fatigue can be brought on by a number of factors. A hereditary weak constitution is one common cause, particularly in chronic fatigue syndrome.  A person’s constitution is determined by several factors: the parents' constitution, parents' health and parents' age at time of conception, the conditions of pregnancy, and childhood development.  Hereditary weakness can manifest in any of the five “vital” organs- or yin organs as Chinese Medicine calls them, because they are said to store the body’s essence. 

A hereditary weakness in the heart would produce symptoms of nervousness and disturbed sleep in childhood. Lung weakness would show signs of catching colds easily, chest diseases in childhood, thin chest, and a weak voice. Spleen weakness will cause symptoms of weak muscles and physical tiredness in childhood, a poor appetite and digestive problems. Liver weakness will show myopia and headaches in childhood, and infertility and menstrual irregularities in adulthood. The kidneys will show signs of nocturnal enuresis and childhood fears, poor bone development, and in adulthood infertility and premature aging and graying of hair.

Lifestyle factors also contribute to fatigue, particularly overwork and eating habits. Overwork can mean either excessive mental or physical work of long hours with inadequate rest. This is a very common cause of fatigue in western societies, and in many cases rest is the only treatment needed. Physical overexertion is also a factor, which includes overexertion at work, as well as excessive exercising or sports activities. Again, this can become a problem when not allowing the body proper adequate rest.

Improper diet is by far the most common cause of chronic fatigue. Irregular eating habits, eating poor-quality food, rich, greasy, fatty and even sometimes too much cold-raw foods, can all injure the spleen and stomach. With the spleen and stomach being the main organs for the transformation of food into energy and blood, its always important to assess eating habits because our food is what provides our body with fuel- insufficient fuel will result in insufficient energy.

Other important factors that are not too uncommon for chronic fatigue are severe illness, the long-term use of medications (which can stress the body), and childbirth. Childbirth can mean many births in a short period of time, or having a weak constitution going into pregnancy or delivery.

It is important to understand that lifestyle factors combined with our constitutional weaknesses are what create the formula for a condition to develop- this is why some people may develop this condition, whereas others may experience symptoms in other areas of health. All of these factors can develop weakness in one or more of the vital organs: lungs, spleen, kidney, liver and heart.  There can be a deficiency of either qi, blood, yin, or yang of one or more of these organs. Whereas in western medicine, chronic fatigue syndrome is a difficult to understand syndrome with uncertain causes, in Chinese medicine chronic fatigue has well-understood causes, which explain why it may develop in some people and not others. When the cause is clear, treatment is straightforward and effective.

This makes acupuncture is an effective option for people who suffer from fatigue with no relief, as acupuncture can produce positive results. In fact, an increase in energy for people with normally low energy is a common result of acupuncture, even though it may not have been directly targeted in treatment.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.

2 02, 2010

Migraines

Migraines are severe, chronic headaches that can cause significant pain for 4 to 72 hours. The frequency with which these headaches occur varies from person to person, from several times a month to much less frequently. A typical migraine attack may include symptoms of moderate to severe pain on one or both sides of the head, head pain with a pulsating or throbbing quality, pain that worsens with physical activity, pain that interferes with regular activities, nausea, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

A migraine may be preceded by sensations of “premonition” several hours or a day or so before the migraine actually strikes, such as auras (changes to vision, such as seeing flashes of light, and feelings of pins and needles in an arm or leg), feelings of elation or intense energy, cravings for sweets, thirst, drowsiness, or irritability or depression.

Migraines usually begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Although much about the cause of migraines isn't understood, genetics and environmental factors seem to both play a role. They may be due to changes in the trigeminal nerve, a major nerve in the head or imbalances in brain chemicals such as serotonin (which drops during migraines). Migraines may be more common in people under 40, in women, and in people with a family history of migraines. Stress, certain foods, strong stimuli (such as lights, sounds or smells), disruptions to sleeping patterns, physical exertion, changes in the weather, medications, and hormonal changes can all trigger migraines.

Western medicine treatment for migraines includes medications to help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Unfortunately, medications may cause side effects such as abdominal pain or ulcers or rebound headaches, which is when a medication stops being effective for the treatment of headaches and actually becomes the cause of headaches. Lifestyle changes that can help manage migraines include being well-rested and getting enough sleep, meditation or muscle relaxation exercises, and keeping a diary to identify migraine triggers.

From a Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, migraines can be caused by a combination of inherited constitution and lifestyle factors such as diet and stress, including emotional stress and overwork. Over time these factors can contribute to a pattern of imbalance that leads to migraines. Because there are different causes for migraines, the symptoms that are experienced will differ from person to person, and so will the treatment. An acupuncturist can create a very targeted and effective treatment by catering it to a person’s specific causes.

For migraine sufferers, acupuncture is an option well worth considering, offering both immediate and long-term relief. Initially, acupuncture can help to relieve both the severity and frequency of migraine symptoms. In fact, it is common for people to see relief after a few acupuncture treatments, although more treatments are typically needed to resolve the problem.

As treatments progress and begin to rebalance the body, the frequency of migraine episodes begins to decrease. And long-term relief is possible- many patients reduce or eliminate their need for migraine medication through acupuncture, demonstrating just how effective an option acupuncture can be.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.

8 06, 2009

Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common medical complaints- more than one-third of adults have insomnia at one time or another, while 10-15% suffer from chronic insomnia. With insomnia, a person usually awakes feeling unrefreshed, over-fatigued and has a hard time concentrating during the day. This lack of sleep can sap energy levels and moods, as well as health, work performance, and quality of life. Insomnia can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, as well as irritability, depression or anxiety, a loss in concentration and focus on tasks, increased errors or accidents, tension headaches and gastro-intestinal problems. It is a problem that takes a huge toll on a person’s health and well-being.

From a Western medical perspective, insomnia can be caused by stress, anxiety, or depression, medications, caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, eating too much late in the evening, work schedule, changes in your environment or routine, poor sleep habits, and a variety of underlying medical conditions. Insomnia can also be a result of aging or changes in health or lifestyle. Typical treatment may include making changes to sleeping habits, relaxation techniques, light therapy, behavioural therapy, and in difficult cases, medications.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia covers a number of different sleep-related problems such as an inability to fall asleep easily, waking up during the night, sleeping restlessly, waking up early in the morning, and dream-disturbed sleep. As with Western medicine, the amount and quality of sleep depend on the state of the mind. Because the organ most closely related to the mind is the heart, this organ is often affected in cases of insomnia. If the heart organ is healthy, the mind will be grounded and sleep will be sound; if the heart is deficient or if it is being affected by other internal pathogenic factors in the body, the mind becomes agitated and sleep is affected.

There are seven major factors that lead to insomnia in Chinese medicine: overexertion and worry, overwork (both mental and physical and working long hours without adequate rest), anger-related emotions (including frustration, resentment, and irritation), constitutional weakness that leads to timid character, irregular diet, childbirth, and internal heat in the body. The most important differentiation for insomnia is whether it is due to an excess or deficiency in the body. Once this differentiation is made, there are a number of different patterns that lead to insomnia. Although there are many different patterns that lead to insomnia, treatment will always have the end goal of calming the mind because it is at the root of insomnia, but how this is achieved varies greatly according to the pattern presented.

It is this very specific diagnosis that makes Chinese medicine so effective for insomnia. Treatment will focus on improving quality of sleep but also accompanying symptoms according to the type of insomnia. Thus acupuncture can treat insomnia that consists of restless sleep combined with nightmares, irritability, headaches and dizziness. But it can also treat insomnia that involves difficulty falling asleep, combined with tiredness, poor appetite, anxiety, poor memory and palpitations. Or it can treat insomnia that involves waking up during the night combined with excessive dreaming, talking or walking in one’s sleep, irritability, sore, dry eyes, dry skin and hair, and dizziness. Each of these is considered insomnia, yet each represents a very different type of insomnia and the way that we approach treatment is also different.

In this way, acupuncture uses the body’s own energy to help it to rebalance and return to its natural rhythm, to correct the underlying cause of insomnia and prevent future problems from re-occurring.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.

12 05, 2009

Headaches

Headaches are a common ailment and can make life very difficult. Headaches can have a wide range of causes, but often the causes are not well understood by Western medicine, and in most cases do not have an identifiable underlying physical cause. To make matters worse, headaches can often be a rebound effect of the very medication that people take to relieve them. Medications are usually the standard treatment method, however some chronic daily headaches are resistant to all medications.

Fortunately, acupuncture can offer both immediate as well as long-term relief. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a number of factors are always considered in headaches. These are constitution, emotions, overwork, diet, accidents, childbirth and external pathogenic factors (such as common cold). There are a few ways to diagnose the cause of headaches, one is according to the where the headache is located on the head and which meridian is being affected, another is according to the pain type. 

A headache on the top of the head is part of the liver channel and is commonly due to a liver-blood deficiency; this type of headache gives a dull pain and will usually improve when lying down. A headache on the sides of the head indicates gallbladder channel and is commonly due to too much heat or fire in the liver. This headache will be sharp and/or throbbing.

Headache behind the eyes, a frequent location for migraines, is also due to liver-blood deficiency if the pain is dull, or liver heat if the pain is sharp and severe. The forehead is part of the stomach channel and is either a stomach deficiency if the headache is dull, or stomach heat if it is sharp.

The back of the head is part of the bladder channel and if headaches in this area are chronic, it usually indicates a kidney deficiency manifesting on that channel. An acute headache on the back of the head is most commonly due to exposure to cold weather and usually indicates the beginning stage of a common cold.

If the whole head is affected and the pain is chronic, it is due to a kidney-essence deficiency. The kidney essence is said to nourish the brain, if it is deficient and the brains lack this nourishment there will be a chronic dull headache with a sensation of emptiness.

When diagnosing according to pain type, dull pain means deficiency. A feeling of heaviness is characteristic of dampness or phlegm obstructing the head and preventing proper circulation. A distending headache that is throbbing, bursting, or pulsating is typically due to the liver (liver-heat). Stabbing headaches with a sensation of very intense pain and fixed in one location are due to blood stasis. Stiffness or tension headache is commonly due to overactive heat in the liver if chronic and invasion of cold if acute. 

There are other factors that can be used in understanding headaches such as what aggravates or eliminates the headaches, including time of day, activity/rest, weather, emotions, food, posture, time of month, and if there is relief or more pain with palpation.

Overall, this analysis gives an acupuncturist a very accurate picture of what is causing the headaches, therefore treatment is very targeted and effective. In fact, it is common for people to see relief after one or a few acupuncture treatments, although more treatments are often needed to resolve the problem. And long-term relief is possible- many patients reduce or eliminate their need for headache medication through acupuncture, demonstrating the effectiveness of this safe and natural therapy.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.