Monday, 1 May 2017

A Sceptic Gets Acupuncture!

15 years ago I was diagnosed with suspected endometriosis. I had been having progressive pain and soreness which appeared to be related to my monthly cycles. I was prescribed progesterone and sent on my way. Unfortunately, the hormones give me depression. Once the course ended I resolved to spend the rest of my reproductive life without children, a meaningful sex life and unable to wear tight clothing. 

This was fine (there are worse things!) until I approached the perimenopause. After having a year where my symptoms (vaginismus) seemed to improve following a new relationship, it got significantly worse. The pain became more frequent and intense. I also had a delayed reaction to triggers that were difficult to predict. I sometimes physically shook with the level of discomfort. Instead of looking forward to an end to pain (menopause) I was unable to do activities I used to enjoy. 

After being given the all clear from fungal and bacterial infections I was diagnosed with vulvodynia or vulval pain syndrome. This is essentially the label they give to unexplained vulval pain when there is not obvious cause. It is believed to be the result of overactive nerves which the brain interprets as pain. There is no cure and the condition can last for years. Obviously, I was upset at the diagnosis as I had gone from a condition that would last another 5 ish years to one that could last a lifetime! 

The Vulval Pain Society website is an excellent resource Vulval Pain Society It recommends a range of treatments to alleviate the symptoms including; creams, anaesthetic gels, a low oxalate diet and acupuncture. The scientific evidence for the latter is sketchy at best, but I figured I had nothing to lose. My only other option was the antidepressants my doctor had prescribed. I spent a fortune in Boots on various products and avoided high oxalate foods, e.g. spinach, leeks, dark chocolate, alcohol, carbonated drinks.

I found an acupuncturist in the local area who had previously treated a woman with the condition. I had previously had acupuncture for shoulder pain on the NHS. I was therefore hopeful but sceptical. The process is as you’d expect. You discuss your symptoms and then have pins inserted where the issues are or are connected to (meridians). Some of these pins hurt, others don’t. You then lie there for 20 mins to relax. I went once a week. For the first 3 treatments I had a nice floaty, out-of-body type experience which was probably due to a release of endorphins. Pleasant enough but would it work?

Now I have had 5 treatments I feel in a position to comment on its effectiveness. I started to see a positive effect after 3 sessions but was cautious to accept any improvement at first. Whilst I still have the soreness, the triggers are fewer and periods of intense pain have been limited. I have now also seen an NHS specialist who has diagnosed me with dermagraphism, prescribed antihistamines and sent me for allergy testing. If I get the all clear from this, there’s an excellent clinic in Manchester for vulval pain. 

Whilst I’m not out of the woods yet, this improvement has had a positive impact on my mood and my closest relationship. I now have some hope that I can get the symptoms to a point where they no longer significantly interfere with my life. Acupuncture may not have contributed to this but those who find themselves with conditions with no ‘cure’ need to feel they have some agency in managing it. The placebo effect is well documented but a different mental frame of reference is invaluable to getting you through dark times.

DISCLAIMER: I have made a lot of lifestyle changes during this time so any improvement may be caused by one or more of these things!


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