Acupuncture for Threatened Miscarriage
A miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of pregnancy before 24 weeks, and in the UK this is something that happens hundreds of thousands of time every year, so that somewhere between 10 and 20% of all confirmed pregnancies end in this way. Most miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The term ‘threatened miscarriage’ refers to the presence of warning signs that may indicate that a miscarriage is likely. In early pregnancy (before 12 weeks) these signs may be vaginal bleeding or persistent light staining and/or pain in the lower abdomen or lower back. After 12 weeks typical signs would be a prolonged pink or scanty brown discharge and heavy bleeding with cramping pain.
However, not all vaginal bleeding necessarily indicates a threatened miscarriage. It is important, nevertheless, that any such bleeding is reported to the midwife or GP.
Threatened Miscarriage and TCM
Conventional medicine does not tend to offer much in the way of treatment to prevent a threatened miscarriage becoming an actual miscarriage. Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, can often help in this area.
As with any health matter, TCM treatment begins with a detailed consultation which enables the practitioner to form an idea of what is happening with the patient’s Qi, and in this case in particular what is happening to the Qi of the Uterus and lower abdomen. Generalising and simplifying somewhat, we can say that from the perspective of TCM, miscarriage may happen either because:
- There is an insufficiency of Qi. One of the functions of Qi is to hold things in place (for example Qi holds the Blood within the Blood vessels). In the context of pregnancy, it is the Qi of the lower abdomen which holds the foetus in place.
- There is too much heat in the Blood. This destabilises the embryo and makes miscarriage more likely.
Treatment with TCM will usually involve acupuncture treatment to either strengthen the Qi or to clear heat from the system. Dietary advice will also be given in most cases – in the first instance it will be necessary to eat food that nourishes the Qi, in the second to avoid food that causes the body to heat up. For patients with Qi insufficiency, rest will also be important, so that their Qi is not further depleted, making miscarriage more likely .
Is It Safe?
When administered by qualified practitioners, acupuncture is an extremely safe form of treatment. There is no evidence to suggest any concerns with the use of acupuncture during pregnancy; in fact pregnant women having been having acupuncture for thousands of years!
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Threatened Miscarriage?
Whilst acupuncture has been used to support women through pregnancy in China for thousands of years, not much scientific research has yet been done to show how effective acupuncture is in preventing threatened miscarriage. However one study using acupuncture for women undergoing IVF1 found that acupuncture reduced the likelihood of miscarriage by almost 50%.
An even better result was achieved by a small research project in China2 in which 41 women with threatened or habitual miscarriage were treated, the treatment being effective in 34 cases (28 normal deliveries and 6 pending at the time the project was written up).
Certainly, acupuncture should not be seen as a substitute for conventional medical care for this condition.
1Magarelli P et al (2004) Acupuncture and Good Prognosis IVF Patients: Synergy. Fertility & Sterility 82 (2)
2Jiang Jian et al (1997) Clinical Observation of 41 Cases of Threatened and Habitual Abortion Treated by Blood Activation and Stasis Removal. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 57/33