Irritable bowel syndrome means different things to different people. You may have a lot of pain, bloating and wind and/or constipation or diarrhoea, or both. Maybe you sometimes have a very urgent need to go to the toilet- something that can lead to a lot of anxiety when travelling or in social situations. Maybe your symptoms keep you awake at night, or maybe they are worse after food, or cause you a lot of nausea. Almost certainly you find that stress, worry or fatigue will make your symptoms worse. However it affects you, acupuncture can be a very effective treatment.
In terms of Chinese medicine, these problems are due to Qi (our energy or life-force) not flowing freely round the body. When Qi flow to the digestive system is too slow or is temporarily blocked it causes pain and interferes with the smooth functioning of the stomach and/or bowel. Then the bowel may get full of wind, and/or the food may be moved through too quickly or too slowly. Qi may also have periods when it is not moving in the right direction so that, for example, stomach acid or wind tends to come upwards towards the mouth instead of flowing normally down the digestive tract. So I often start acupuncture treatment using acupuncture points that promote smooth movement of Qi. Encouraging gentle exercise to move the Qi may also be important.
In order to make the improvement long-term, it is also necessary for me to work with you to understand what the underlying causes are for this Qi imbalance. Qi may not be flowing smoothly because it is not vigorous enough, in which case I use acupuncture to strengthen it. Or it may be held up by strong emotions, especially if these are difficult to express. This is why irritable bowel symptoms are so susceptible to stress, worry, overwork, or anger and frustration. In this situation, acupuncture treatment can help to free up these emotions and give you space to find your own ways of coping and perhaps longer term plans for a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a Western medicine label that may be reassuring, but does not often lead to effective treatment. Many patients I see come for another reason, but then describe how they are living with what are really very difficult bowel symptoms. Fortunately, improving the flow and strength of Qi with acupuncture is usually very helpful for people with irritable bowel and can be included in treatment plans for a variety of other problems.