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Acupuncture and Infertility
What does acupuncture really mean?
Acupuncture involves inserting and sometimes manipulating very thin needles into very specific points on the body. It is similar to physical therapy in that the method of intervention is process-oriented (ie ongoing). The insertion of various needles is said to stimulate the flow of “Qi” (tee) energy. Treatment of women with infertility usually lasts three to four months in the period before insemination and after IVF. It is important to note that commitment to acupuncture treatment means more than surrendering yourself to the manipulation of a needle. Most practitioners trained in Chinese medicine will perform a complete physical examination that includes testing the color of the tongue and taking the pulse. Information from these preliminary activities helps the practitioner understand the blood flow, body fluid balance, and energy level of a particular patient.
How can acupuncture help a woman get pregnant?
Because acupuncture appears to increase blood flow to vital organs, it can help regulate hormone levels and even improve ovarian and follicle function, making for healthier eggs. Also, blood flow to the uterus may increase, allowing for a thicker endometrial lining that increases the chances that the uterus will hold the implanted egg to term without miscarriage. For these reasons, it is not unrealistic to assume (and several studies even suggest) that acupuncture can improve the success rate of medical interventions such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Acupuncture will not help a woman get pregnant if her problem stems from something that needs to be surgically corrected, such as a blocked fallopian tube. But, in the special case of spasmed fallopian tubes (as opposed to blocked fallopian tubes) there may be some relief through acupuncture — there have been cases where spasmed fallopian tubes have been removed (and therefore opened) by acupuncture. This can be critical, as the fallopian tubes must be open in order for the egg to pass past the cervix where it can either be fertilized or collected.
Furthermore, sometimes acupuncture is combined with herbal medicine to treat hormonal imbalances, irregularities in the female menstrual cycle, and even some male infertility factors.
What do the studies really say?
While many proponents claim that acupuncture can alleviate almost any medical condition, it is now somewhat accepted that acupuncture can at least temporarily relieve pain and even regulate blood pressure by stimulating the central nervous system. These effects are achieved because by applying acupuncture, the body releases endorphins that inhibit pain and give the body a sense of well-being. Endorphins can also release certain neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which some say encourage the body to heal itself.
Several studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture especially when used in conjunction with IVF. A small German study from 2002 showed a nearly doubling of pregnancy rates for women who received acupuncture both immediately before and immediately after embryo transfer. Another study in Great Britain produced similar results — this study found that the chances of conception increased by about 65 percent for women who underwent acupuncture immediately before and after the IVF procedure. dr. Paul C. Magarelli, an infertility physician at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Fertility in Colorado Springs, Colo., co-authored an ongoing study on the use of acupuncture with IVF with Diane K. Cridennda, MD, a licensed acupuncturist. . Although Magarelli was initially skeptical, he says the data from his study convinced him that acupuncture increases a woman’s chances of getting pregnant with IVF and carrying that pregnancy to term.
All these studies were small in scale. One board-certified endocrinologist at the Reproductive Medicine Group in Tampa, Florida, Samuel Tarantino, acknowledges that existing studies have provided good information, but the evidence is not yet sufficient to support the claim that acupuncture is a proven treatment for infertility. He attributes part of the reported success to the placebo effect. In other words, “if the patient believes it will work, it will work because of it. The brain has an intense power to heal itself.” “It’s impossible to say at this point,” said Dr. Robert Schenken, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, another fertility expert who believes that not enough controlled data from human clinical trials has been produced to draw any conclusions about effectiveness. acupuncture. with barren women.
If I want to use acupuncture as part of my treatment, how do I do it?
A growing number of fertility centers have begun to offer acupuncture as an option as part of their IVF treatment protocol (note that even if your clinic offers it or gives you a referral, insurance usually does not cover the cost of acupuncture, and a single treatment can cost anywhere from $75 to $90 dollars). If you plan to use acupuncture as part of your overall treatment plan, consider starting treatment three to four months before a medical procedure such as artificial insemination or (IVF). Then continue with treatments before and after insemination or embryo transfer. Be sure to consult a certified acupuncturist with experience in fertility treatment. Your acupuncturist should not insert needles into the abdominal-pelvic area after insemination or transfer. There is a risk that inadvertent needle placement errors by an acupuncturist who has not studied fertility could contribute to miscarriage.
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