Neuralgia

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3 01, 2011

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the jaw into the face. In trigeminal neuralgia, the nerve function is disrupted. This can cause attacks of mild or intense pain in the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips or even the eye and forehead. The attacks can happen spontaneously or are triggered by mild stimulation to the face such as shaving, smiling, eating, or brushing your teeth. Attacks may initially be occasional twinges of mild pain but as trigeminal neuralgia progresses there may be longer, more frequent bouts of severe, shooting or jabbing pain like an electric shock.  Episodes of frequent attacks can last days, weeks, months or longer, and there can be periods where no pain is experienced.

Trigeminal neuralgia is often a problem of pressure being put on the nerve, usually from an enlarged artery adjacent to the nerve, but in some cases it may be due to a tumor compressing the nerve. In other cases it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that causes damage to certain nerves. In many people who have suffered from shingles, trigeminal neuralgia can be a result of the virus, along with nerve pain in other areas of the body. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or in other cases, a cause cannot be found. It occurs in women more often than men, and is more likely to occur in people over the age of 50.

There are a variety of treatments that may be used in Western medicine for trigeminal neuralgia. Medications are usually the first treatment, such as anti-convulsants or muscle relaxing medications. However, over time, some people with the disorder may stop responding to medications or experience unpleasant side effects. In these cases, injections to numb the nerve or surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve may be considered.

Acupuncture is an option well worth considering for trigeminal neuralgia. Studies in recent years have shown the positive effects of acupuncture for nerve disorders, and the World Health Organization lists acupuncture as a viable treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. From a Chinese medicine perspective, trigeminal neuralgia has two main causes. The first is over-exposure to cold and wind, causing an obstruction of the blood and qi-energy in the meridians of the face, leading to sudden attacks of facial pain and spasms of the facial muscles, symptoms which are aggravated by cold and relieved by heat. The attacks may be accompanied by runny nose and excess salivation. The second cause is due to internal factors, mainly an imbalance of liver and stomach energy, causing sudden attacks of facial pain with more of a burning sensation, accompanied by bloodshot eyes, tearing of the eyes, thirst, and irritability. In this case, the condition may develop as a result of lifestyle and dietary habits which over time may lead to an internal imbalance.

In either case, acupuncture can be remarkably effective in alleviating facial pain without side effects. Treatments help to improve circulation to relieve pain and irritation of the trigeminal nerve. Acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms during a flare-up and may also promote better functioning of the trigeminal nerve so that flare-ups are less likely to occur or are more mild when they do occur. Indeed, acupuncture is shown to be a great option for trigeminal neuralgia, and can help you regain your lifestyle and live free of pain.

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

3 01, 2011

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system attacks the body’s myelin, the protective sheath that encases the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, eventually causing deterioration of the nerves themselves. When myelin is damaged, the messages that travel along that nerve may be slowed or blocked, interfering with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

It is not yet understand exactly why multiple sclerosis occurs in some people and not other although a combination of factors, ranging from genetics to childhood infections, may play a role. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.

Multiple sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early in the course of the disease, because symptoms often occur in periods of relapse and remission, sometimes disappearing for months. Symptoms vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and the particular nerves that are affected. Symptoms can include dizziness, fatigue, tremors, lack of coordination or unsteady walk, double vision or blurring of vision, tingling or pain in parts of the body, deterioration of vision, electrical jolt sensations that occur with certain head movements, and numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which typically occurs on one side of the body at a time or the bottom half of the body. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis often are triggered or worsened by an increase in body temperature.

Because there is presently no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatment typically focuses on combating the autoimmune response and managing the symptoms. Western medical treatment mainly consists of medications to manage symptoms, although many disease-modifying treatments are being developed. Some people have such mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary.

In Chinese medicine, a number of factors are considered to contribute to the development of multiple sclerosis, including diet, lifestyle, and constitutional factors that may cause a vulnerability to developing this condition. MS is considered a dampness pattern, meaning that there is an obstruction of the flow of energy through the body’s channels, causing a feeling of heaviness in the legs as well as numbness and tingling. Over time, the blocked energy has an effect on other areas, causing a deficiency in the liver and kidneys that leads to blurred vision, weakness of the legs, dizziness, and vertigo.

Acupuncture cannot cure multiple sclerosis, but it can offer considerable help in alleviating the symptoms and slowing down the progress of the condition. However, the extent to which acupuncture can help depends on when treatment is started- the earlier treatment is started, the better.

If treatment is started in the very early stages, symptoms can be minimized and even eliminated, and the disease progression slowed or halted. Later stages of multiple sclerosis can be more difficult to treat, however acupuncture can still be of benefit in the relief of symptoms, and is an option well worth considering for the management of this condition. One can expect a schedule of 2-3 treatments per week for the first few weeks, going down to once a week as progress is made.

Living with a chronic illness such as MS is a challenge that means managing symptoms and preventing and minimizing flare-ups. Staying healthy, exercising, decreasing stress, avoiding heat, and lots of rest can play a big part in managing the condition and maintaining quality of life. Finding therapies that can help to manage symptoms and keep the body healthy are also important, and acupuncture can play a role in this management.

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

2 03, 2009

Shingles

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash with fluid-filled blisters. The rash is usually limited to one side of the body, occuring along the spine and running towards the chest and abdomen, but it can also appear on the head or on the arms and legs on one side. Normally the blisters disappear within a couple of days to weeks, but the pain remains. As long as the fluid-filled blisters are there the disease is contagious.

Shingles causes symptoms of pain, burning, numbness,tingling, and itching. It may also be accompanied by fever and chills, general achiness, headaches, and fatigue.  In severe cases, the skin can be so irritated that it makes wearing clothing or even covering it with a bedsheet very painful, thus interfering with sleep and daily activities.

The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. After a case of chickenpox the virus disappears, but remains dormant in the nervous system of the body and can return years later in periods of stress or fatigue (low resistance). Sometimes shingles can cause a painful complication called post-herpatic neuralgia, where the skin remains painful and sensitive to the touch long after the shingles has cleared up- a condition can last a very long time and with no real solution.

In Western Medicine shingles may be treated with painkillers, tranquilizers and steroids. When diagnosed in an early stage antiviral drugs may bring some relief. There are also vaccines which may help to prevent shingles.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shingles are caused by a condition called liver fire and damp-heat. The dampness causes the fluids in the blisters and heat causes the redness, burning and itching of the skin. With this internal environment of heat in the liver and damp heat in the spleen, the virus is able to quickly grow and easily penetrate into the blood and move throughout the body. Commonly if there is more dampness there will be more blistering of fluids and will appearing in the lower parts of the body. If heat is predominant there will less fluids, and the blisters will show more redness and severe pain, and lesions can show on the upper part of the body. 

Acupuncture is a very effective tool in the treatment of shingles. An acupuncturist uses points to remove stagnation, which is commonly the cause of heat building up in the liver. This will help clear the blood and cool the heat. We can also use points to strengthen the energy of the spleen, to help dredge the dampness and heat. Treatments can help to reduce the pain and inflammation of the nerves, boost the immune system, and promote healing and a faster, more complete recovery.

With shingles, it is very important not to delay treatment as early treatment can ease pain, speed healing, and reduce the risk of complications, such as postherpetic neuralgia. The longer the onset of shingles, the more damage the virus can do to the nerve roots and the harder it can be to treat it. A very advanced case of shingles can take many more treatments to resolve, as compared to patients with very early stages of shingles who have seen the problem clear up very quickly with acupuncture.

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