If you have fibroids and are suffering from symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual cramps, etc, try acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine. While these treatments may not shrink the fibroids they will reduce or eliminate your symptoms.Can Acupuncture Shrink Uterine Fibroids?"
The answer is yes, but with a “but”.
Uterine fibroids (or uterine leiomyomas, myomas) are benign tumors composed of smooth uterine muscle and connective tissue. They are found in approximately 20% of women over 35 years of age. They don’t cause any symptoms in some women, but they can cause symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual cramps; abdominal discomfort or bloating, constipation (if the rectum is compressed); urinary frequency (if the bladder is compressed); backache (if muscles and nerves of the lower back are compressed); pain during sexual intercourse, pelvic discomfort, or pain, etc.
Fibroids also may cause infertility if they obstruct the uterine cavity or the entrance into the uterus from the fallopian tubes.
I often get asked from a potential patient or even another acupuncturist if acupuncture can treat a fibroid, especially a large one. Here is a fact-sheet on TCM treatment for fibroids:
- Acupuncture can help reduce the size of fibroids, but it is more effective when it is combined with Chinese herbal medicine
- A combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may make a fibroid disappear if it is very small (generally less than walnut-sized, 2-3 cm in diameter, but it could be larger)
- If you have a large fibroid, a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may reduce its size, but probably not to a large extent; however, the treatment can help prevent it from growing larger
- A combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can relieve symptoms caused by your fibroid(s) – heavy period, menstrual cramps, etc.
- Lifestyle change and dietary change are also very important along with TCM treatment which I will explain why later (please read on).
How Does TCM View Uterine Fibroids?
In TCM, the cause of fibroids is mainly blood stasis (blood stagnation) in the uterus. Blood stasis itself is caused by another factor such as cold (which coagulates the blood), qi stagnation (the qi moves the blood, so if the qi does not move, the blood therefore does not flow), heat (which dries up body fluids and causes the blood to thicken, resulting in blood stasis). Also, those who have weak digestion (spleen-qi deficiency) may have extra pathogenic fluids accumulated in the body over the years, and one type of the fluids called phlegm may form a mass with stagnant blood in the uterus. These causes are called “patterns” and it is very important to differentiate the pattern of the disease (in other words, to find out what kind of imbalance you have in the body) to determine the appropriate TCM treatment.
I already mentioned about the relationship between weak digestion (spleen-qi deficiency) and fibroids above, and therefore what you eat and how you eat are very important.
The cause of uterine fibroids are unknown, but it is known that estrogens, especially estradiol (E2), promote their growth. Dr. Northup, MD states that estrogen dominance can be attributable to the stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.
How does TCM view the relationship between stress and fibroids?
The liver (one of the TCM organs) controls the free flow of qi throughout the body so when there is stagnation, the liver is always involved. Stress is a major cause of stagnation of qi, which can result in blood stasis in the long term as mentioned above. A long term stagnation of qi also generate heat.
That is why stress management and lifestyle changes are also important along with TCM treatment for fibroids. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are very effective for stress management.
Western Treatment for Uterine Fibroids
From a Western medicine standpoint, hormonal therapy and surgical treatment (hysterectomy or myomectomy) are offered as conventional treatment. Recently, uterine artery embolization (UAE) and MRI-guided focused ultrasound therapy are also offered – they are less invasive than hysterectomy or myomectomy and require shorter recovery time. If you are interested in a noninvasive method of treatment, TCM is a good choice; however, it will not be instantaneous as healing the body naturally takes time.
Overall, I would suggest the following:
- If you happened to find you have a small fibroid I would suggest you go for treatment before it grows more.
- If you have a large fibroid which has been growing for years and if you are not going to have menopause soon, I suggest you go for treatment to prevent it from growing more and causing more symptoms. Note: Fibroids grow by eating up estrogen so they will shrink when you have reached menopause as your estrogen levels will have decreased.
- It usually takes a long time to treat fibroids, even with a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. I would suggest you have sonography (ultrasound) done before starting your TCM treatment, and then another sonophaphy after three months to see the effectiveness of the treatment, if possible. Then discuss continuation of treatment with your TCM practitioner.
- If you have fibroids and are suffering from symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual cramps, etc, try acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine. While these treatments may not shrink the fibroids they will reduce or eliminate your symptoms.