Diane Iuliano, Lic.Ac., M.Ac., Dipl.Ac., works in the Boston area. She took some time to discuss with Body1.com how acupuncture may help patients with uterine fibroids, for example those who wish to avoid surgery or hormonal therapies. Though each person has a different experience, she explains, some find acupuncture to be very effective. Iuliano can support her beliefs with a personal success story, as well: as a young woman in her early twenties, she was diagnosed with fibroids, which have not troubled her since she completed a course of acupuncture treatment.
Fibroids1: First, can you give our readers who may not be familiar with acupuncture an explanation of how it works? What sorts of conditions can be treated using acupuncture?
Diane Iuliano: There are many theories, styles and explanations about acupuncture and how acupuncture works. One theory contends that any condition or disharmony in the body (whether it is a physical, emotional or spiritual ailment) is the result from a disruption in the flow of energy in the channels or meridians in the body. These channels may be thought of as a network of pipes in a structure (the body). The cause of disease is thought to be too much or too little of something, or something that is stuck, in one or more of the channels. One of the functions of acupuncture is for the practitioner to determine if there is a deficiency, excess or stagnation in these channels, and then to tonify, disperse or move the stagnation found.
Acupuncture has an individualized effect. The treatment is as varied and unique as the person being treated. In general, almost any condition (non-emergency) will respond to acupuncture. However, as with anything else, it does not work for everyone and it does not work all the time.
Fibroids1: What makes acupuncture treatment for fibroids different from acupuncture treatment for other problems or conditions?
D.I.: The Western diagnosis is not as important as the diagnostic approach and treatment with acupuncture is. Treatment is individualized. The diagnostic tools used in acupuncture are the critical determining factor. Taking the pulse at the wrist, palpating the abdomen, looking at the tongue, etcetera, are all part of the treatment strategy. Several women could come in with the same Western diagnosis of “fibroids” and the treatment could be different for each person.
Fibroids1: What should a uterine fibroid patient expect when they come to you for treatment?
D.I.: When a patient comes in for the initial visit, I take an extensive medical history. I want to know any previous medical conditions, surgeries, medications and allergies. Diet plays an important role in the treatment of fibroids, as well as caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake. Stress is also a factor. The lifestyle, sleep and work habits the patient has are important information.
The treatment is not a one-time procedure. In order to gauge how effective the acupuncture treatment is, the patient is usually required to come once a week through a few cycles. It is important to see how the symptoms change during the progression of treatment.
The needles I use are very thin gauge needles (finer than a hair), and they are inserted about 4-6 mm in the body. There is minimal sensation felt with the insertion of a needle. Certainly it does not feel like a needle stick. Once the needle is inserted it is not unusual to feel a tingling, distention or pulsating at or among the needle points. It should not be painful. Often patients fall asleep during a treatment.
Because the needles are single-use and pre-sterilized, the worry about clean needles is eradicated.
Body1: How well have fibroid patients responded to acupuncture in the past? Does acupuncture begin to work immediately, or is it a series of incremental improvements over time?
D.I.: Again, because acupuncture has such an individualized effect, some patients will feel immediate results while it may take others several cycles to realize a change. In general acupuncture for the treatment of fibroids has an accumulated effect.
Fibroids1: What about acupuncture makes the treatment a good alternative to more traditional treatments offered by Western medicine, such as hysterectomy or the newer generation of minimally invasive procedures that have started to replace open surgery?
D.I.: I am grateful that there are surgical options available when necessary. But if it is possible to remove the fibroids without surgical intervention why would anyone opt for a surgical procedure?
Fibroids1: How would you persuade people who “grew up on” traditional Western medicine to be more open-minded about acupuncture? If you had a friend with fibroids, how would you convince her that acupuncture was a good option for treatment?
D.I.: I tell my story. I was an artist working as a graphic designer. I was in my early 20s and had five consecutive surgeries for uterine fibroids. After my last myomectomy, when symptoms returned, the pain I had was extreme. It would come upon me with no warning; it was like a knife, sharp and strong. A few times when I was driving I had to pull over to the side of the road and vomit. I had tried Lupron™, birth control pills, Percocet™, etcetera. I felt like I was either pseudo-pregnant or pseudo-menopausal. The hot flashes with the Lupron™ were horrible. During my next visit, my gynecologist discussed my history with fibroids and discussed the possibility of having a hysterectomy. Well, in my 20s I knew that was not the option I wanted. I don’t know what possessed me, but I opened the phone book and found an osteopath who also performed acupuncture. He guided me through dietary changes and gave me herbal remedies. I went for acupuncture for three months and he reduced the fibroids so I did not need a hysterectomy. It was enough for me to close my graphic design studio and apply to acupuncture school. (In Massachusetts, acupuncturists are licensed by the Board of Medicine. The program is about three years post-graduate.) I have not had any uterine fibroids since my treatment. It has been about 18 years.