Why use Chinese medicine to Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
If you have been struggling with chronic fatigue, it is likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time searching the internet and speaking with various health professionals, and, in the process come into contact with a diverse range of treatment options.
The information here gives the chronic fatigue sufferer, and carer, some guidance on how Chinese medicine views fatigue syndromes, and why it can be considered an appropriate treatment method for chronic fatigue.
Limited Western Medical Treatment Options
Whilst the concept of a fatigue syndrome has been around since time began, the condition has only been recognised by Western medicine for a relatively short period of time – first described in 1988 by the United States Centres for Disease Control.
Many illnesses have fatigue as part of their clinical picture but in the evaluation of chronic fatigue, and diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), the possibility of other diseases is eliminated. For example, a careful assessment for neurological deficits or signs of anaemia, cardiovascular problems, respiratory disease, hidden infection, connective tissue disease or tumour should be conducted by your GP or physician.
Once you have eliminated the possibility of other diseases, mainstream treatment options for the treatment of chronic fatigue become limited.
In Australia, doctors may refer to Clinical Practice Guidelines: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which was produced by a working group under the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2002.
Within those guidelines, the management of chronic fatigue is largely based on symptom management and includes the treatment of headache, sleep disturbance, anxiety and depression, nausea, abdominal and period pain, and muscle aches and pains. It also recommends psychological support, education and empathy. Such management is without a doubt important and for this reason it is essential that you maintain regular contact with your doctor.
Unfortunately, “management” is the keyword here rather than “treatment”. The problem lies in that, despite a vast amount of research over the last 2 decades, no single cause has been reliably identified.
Even if a CFS sufferer was to be categorised into a “type” of CFS, modern medical “treatments” such as antiviral, immunoregulatory, antidepressant and metabolic drug regimens are not recommended (by the authors of the guidelines) due to lack of supporting evidence and potentially massive side effects
Looking for an Alternative
So, with modern medicine unable to provide much more than a ruling out of other illnesses and symptomatic relief, it is understandable that one would look for alternatives. As a sufferer, you are no doubt very aware of the long term natural course of CFS and that your condition is far too disruptive and disabling to simply lie in bed and wait.
When looking for an alternative therapy, make sure you do your research, and ask a lot of questions. If you cannot do your own independent research on a treatment method, and the only information you can find is from a product manufacturer, proceed with caution. Reports from other sufferers are helpful but remember that one size does not fit all.
Some things to look out for, which are likely to enhance your liklihood of success, are:
- A treatment that belongs to an established healthcare system. Such a treatment is more likely to have been used by a large number of people and tested and refined over time. If it has been around for a while, it has more likely to have some value.
- A treatment with a clear theoretical focus. Too often I see people on “shot gun” therapy, that is, on a long list of medications, remedies, supplements and dietary restrictions – just in case they might be helpful.
- A treatment that is personalised to your individual situation – we know that the one-size-fits-all approach is particularly flawed when treating chronic fatigue.
Once you decide on a treatment that makes sense to you, stick to it. Considering the chronic nature of the illness, any treatment is going to take time and persistence and will almost certainly involve setbacks and exacerbations of symptoms along the way. Frequent switching from one form of treatment to another in search of an elusive “cure” should be avoided, as it is likely to result only in frustration and continued disability.
What does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offer that most other alternative approaches cannot?
1) TCM offers an established and time-tested medical system rather than a single medicine. TCM is not a new fad or experimental medicine. Fatigue syndromes in Chinese medicine have been well studied, understood and treated for over 2000 years. No other form of medicine in the world can boast this level of recorded experience.
2) TCM is highly focused and personalised medicine. Your practitioner would observe all of your symptoms and signs and diagnose you as belonging to a particular “pattern” or category of fatigue.
In traditional Chinese medicine there are a number of generally recognised “patterns” a chronic fatigue sufferer could belong to. Herbal medicine and/or acupuncture are recommended, and the herbs and acupuncture points selected, depending on your diagnosis. The pattern with which you are diagnosed loosely guides the treatment, then prescriptions are fine-tuned to fit your individual situation.
3) The Chinese medical view of the body and disease processes (not to mention the diagnostic and treatment methods) is unique and very different to that of modern medicine. Many alternative therapies operate under the same Western understanding of the body as modern medicine. They define and categorise disease the same way, and use similar diagnostic methods (they just use non-pharmaceutical treatments).
Because the TCM system is so separate and completely different, it can often see and successfully treat patterns of ill health that have failed to respond to other methods. Basically we look through a different lens rather than just a different shade of the same lens. Our unique understanding means we are not reliant on a Western medical diagnosis or explanation to be able to treat.
I hope you find this information useful. Please feel to contact me should you need any questions answered.