Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract lining. This inflammation often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissues. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe and may develop gradually or come on suddenly, without warning. When the disease is active, the most common symptoms are severe diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, blood in the stool, ulcers in the intestinal walls, and reduced appetite and weight loss as a result of digestive discomfort and the body’s reduced ability to absorb nutrients. Other symptoms that may accompany Crohn’s diease include fever, fatigue, arthritis, eye inflammation, skin disorders, and inflammation of the liver or bile ducts.
The cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown but it is believed to be caused by a combination of heredity and a malfunctioning immune system. Diet, stress, and certain medications may aggravate the condition. There is also no known medical cure for Crohn’s disease, and medical treatment focuses on reducing the inflammation in order to relieve symptoms and if possible to promote long-term remission. Treatment for Crohn’s disease usually involves medications such as anti-inflammatories, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics, combined with other medications to help with the symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be performed to remove a section of the intestinal tract.
Because Chinese medicine (TCM) developed independently from Western medicine, it has a different view of Crohn’s disease. Chinese medicine has its own disease classifications that do not always correspond with Western medical classifications. TCM diagnosis is based on the collective symptoms that a person is experiencing, and together these symptoms create a picture that leads us to the cause. Depending on symptoms, we may classify Crohn’s disease as a type of abdominal pain or diarrhea, or both.
Because Crohn’s disease affects the body’s digestive system, it may involve a weakness or disorder of the stomach, spleen, large intestine, and/or kidneys. This is usually due to a constitutional weakness (genetics) that can be aggravated by diet, environment, emotional stress, overwork, or chronic illness, leading to the development of this condition. Acupuncture treatments can help to relieve the symptoms of a flare-up of Crohn’s disease. Diarrhea and abdominal pain particularly respond well to acupuncture. Not only does acupuncture help with the symptoms of a flare-up, but it can also help to strengthen the body and correct functioning to promote faster remission and a reduction in the frequency and severity of future flare-ups.
Because we are dealing with a more complex, chronic condition, recovery from Crohn’s disease with acupuncture will be a gradual and steady process, rather than an instant fix. Acupuncture engages the healing process, and each treatment builds on the progress of the last. Conditions like Crohn’s disease that develop over a longer period of time take more time to reverse and undo. However, acupuncture is a positive option that can help sufferers of Crohn’s disease live more symptom-free and experience a better quality of life.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.