A little over a year ago, a woman came into my office presenting with chronic colitis. She explained that she had been having diarrhea multiple times a day for the past 17 years. It came as no surprise that one of her chief symptoms was fatigue. The patient had been through the system.
In Search of Relief
She had seen a naturopath and multiple MDs. A colonoscopy 7 years ago revealed nothing that would explain the chronic colitis. She took steroids at one point for a long period of time, which helped for about a year, but her MD was concerned about the negative effects of long term steroid use.
Peptobismal would help the symptoms but had a diminishing effect. There was no association with food and she had tried many different diets, attempting to avoiding many different potential allergens. She had most recently tried essential oils which helped a tiny bit with symptoms. Her thyroid and blood work were normal. She was diagnosed with microscopic colitis which left her with no western medical treatment options.
The patient reported bloating pain and diarrhea of watery or pudding-like consistency. Pain was temporarily relieved by passing gas and she had lots of rumbling sounds in the abdomen. Bowel movements occurred multiple times in the morning and up to 10 times daily. She was always cold, would often wake with a bad headache and was always tired upon waking. She stayed well hydrated and took a daily multivitamin. Everything else was normal.
In Chinese medicine, diarrhea and loose stools (aka chronic colitis) are often associated with a yang deficiency. You have probably heard of yang and yin. If Yang is the sun, fire, and function, then yin is the moon, ice, and form. Yang is everything warm. Deficiency in yang not only means feeling cold, but also means a deficiency in digestive fire and the ability to transform the food we eat into fuel for the body. Instead, poorly digested, malabsorbed nutrition pours out the other end.
Treating Chronic Colitis
Her abdomen was tight and contracted, but not tender anywhere. This often happens with chronic disease. There is so much pain for so long that nerve receptors have dulled and there is not only a high tolerance for pain, but the patient rarely registers what is going on with their body. I told her that as we began treatment, she would become more sensitive to the discomfort before she improved.
I used both acupuncture and herbs to strengthen her yang. This was not a case where I expected a quick resolution and in fact it has been one of the most difficult cases I have ever treated.
The patient improved right away but it was a while before she had only one solid stool daily, and no pain or gas. She also had multiple periods of time were her stools actually got so solid that they were hard to pass. Then she would go off of her treatment and go back to the painful daily diarrhea.
But when she was stable, the patient reported feeling better than she had in 17 years. Though it was difficult at first to maintain the stability, her periods of good health kept us both encouraged.
After a year of treatment, I am pleased to report that she is consistently stable and feeling good with just one BM per day. No pain. No bloating. No Nausea. She also doesn’t get as cold as she used to and was much more comfortable through the cold winter months this past winter. She still takes Chinese herbs daily and comes in for acupuncture treatments on a monthly basis.
Emerging Good Health
Eventually her body will be strong enough to go off of the herbs. And that is what makes me love this form of medicine. Even though daily herbal treatment is necessary now, it is encouraging healing to take place in her body. It is not something she will have to take for life. And there are no side effects.
If you have chronic discomfort, visit your local acupuncturist. Even after decades of pain, and multiple failed diagnoses by western medicine, acupuncture can be very effective in clearing up the cause of the trouble.