What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a inflammatory disease that results in damage to the myelin sheaths – the protective coatings around neurons in the brain. It gets its name from the resulting scleroses or scar formations that occur after this damage takes place. The disease appears in a few forms, a relapsing-remitting form, where a person has a flare-up of damage followed by a (sometimes long) period of no symptoms, and a chronic progressive form, where there are no periods of remission. During damage (and after, should sclerosis appear, a patient will have problems talking, moving, and difficulty coordinating their body since the electrical impulses from their brain cannot get out to their limbs when no myelin coating is present. Specific symptoms of MS vary – typical ones are given in the diagram.
How do you get MS? The exact cause is unknown, but we do know that it involves both a genetic & environmental component to it. Standard diagnosis is done through MRI, and treatment involves regular injections of immunosuppressants.
Acupuncture & Multiple Sclerosis
Acupuncture (and East Asian Medicine as a whole) has a variety of treatments for MS. An East Asian Medicine diagnosis for an MS patient will be performed the same way it is performed for any other patient: the pattern of signs and symptoms for that person will be evaluated as a whole to determine the unique approach suited to that individual. The specific therapies used would include dietary suggestions, exercise, acupuncture, and herbal medicine to treat the constitutional health of the individual rather than the specific symptoms that patient has. When treating the underlying health, a patient’s quality of life and mobility improves, and (if they relapse & remit) their attacks become less severe or frequent.
In terms of research, there is very little that has been done. To date there are case studies that show benefit for pain relief or in helping the patient to better manage the condition themselves. Studies also show benefit when a correct herbal formula is given, or when herbs are given alongside Western drugs. This last approach – a combination of modalities – often yields the highest benefit for any long-term condition.
At the start of 2013 a couple of new drugs were approved for the treatment of MS, and so far they show promising results. But for those who cannot get access to effective treatment – or for those who need additional care to manage pain or keep their MS in remission – acupuncture & herbal medicine provide an attractive alternative. This is specifically true for those who don’t have insurance coverage and could benefit from the community acupuncture approach of high-frequency and low cost treatment.
The most important factor to consider, though, is that once the diagnosis is made, changes to control the disease should be put in place right away, before neurological damage becomes extensive. If this is you, don’t delay in getting care.