The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown but is thought to be affected by estrogen levels. Fibroids are usually benign and may even go undetected by a woman and her doctor during her entire life. Fibroids usually enlarge during the childbearing years but usually shrink by the time she has gone through menopause. Most commonly, fibroids are found in women over the age of 30, and though it is rare, in younger women under 20. African Americans are more commonly affected than Caucasians.
Since it is possible for your general practitioner to misdiagnose adenomyosis or ovarian cysts as uterine fibroids, an internal exam by your gynecologist is best to confirm the diagnosis. A variety of simple tests such as an ultrasound or hysteroscopy, a small telescope used to look inside the uterus, can usually be done quickly and in your doctor’s office. If you have larger fibroids, your doctor may want to do an MRI.
Electronic stimulation was introduced in China in 1934. It was created as a substitute for hand manipulation normally performed by the acupuncturist. This method allows all of the needles to be stimulated simultaneously for the entire treatment without the acupuncturist getting fatigued. It also allows for an exact frequency to be delivered and stronger stimulation to the area without risk of injury to the surrounding skin and tissues.
Many types of acupuncture are employed in the effort to treat fibroids, though traditional acupuncture is the most common. Though the department of acupuncture at Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine believes more evidence is required to establish the efficacy and safety of acupuncture treatments for uterine fibroids, many acupuncturists and their patients report varying degrees of success.
Treatment for fibroids varies based on the practitioner and patient needs.
Your acupuncturist may choose to simply use acupuncture points, or if appropriate, she will use these points in conjunction with electronic stimulation. The decision to use electronic stimulation is a made on a case by case basis by the treating acupuncturist. Certain factors including a patient’s age and body type as well as size and number of fibroids will be used to determine the best treatment method. For example, while a patient with larger fibroids may best benefit from electronic acupuncture, the stimulation may be too intense or painful for the patient.
Electro-stimulation is added to the treatment by attaching small wires to the needles in order to send small micro-currents to the surrounding area. In the case of uterine fibroids, this is done in an effort to move blood and “qi” or energy in the area in and around the uterus in an effort to reduce their size. This is rarely painful and some patients even find the sensation enjoyable. An average of 9 volts to 45 volts is used in treatment. The power is equivalent to that of a watch battery. A standard treatment with electronic acupuncture usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes and rarely exceeds 30 minutes.
Acupuncture with electronic stimulation is considered safe with minimal risks when administered by a qualified practitioner. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes acupuncture needles as a class II medical device. Acupuncture — including that with electro-stimulation — is never to be self-administered for safety reasons; improper use can result in injury and infection. Electro-stimulation is contraindicated for patients who are pregnant, wear a pacemaker or have a history of seizures.
Ask your doctor if acupuncture is an appropriate treatment option for you. It is also best to find a licensed acupuncturist with experience treating uterine fibroids. If you aren’t familiar with a licensed acupuncturist ask your general practitioner to refer you to one. The acupuncturist you see should be able to tell you how many sessions you’ll need and whether your treatments are covered by your insurance. Though acupuncture may be effective for your condition, it’s not a substitute for the medical care provided by your doctor.