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Indigestion and Chinese Medicine
Most people have experienced at least one episode of indigestion. Heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, burping, gas, bloating and pain are common symptoms of indigestion. Most people who seek treatment for indigestion do so because it is a chronic problem.
Chinese medical philosophy places great importance on the diet when treating indigestion. An effort should be made to track what foods may be irritating to the patient and to avoid those foods. In general, most cold foods, raw foods and oily foods are more difficult to digest. Patients often ask why raw foods are not easy on the stomach, given that the nutritional content may be higher than in their cooked forms. From a Chinese perspective, raw foods are considered to be energetically cold and cold is damaging to the stomach and spleen, the two organs that are responsible for digestion.
Along with diet, herbal therapy and acupuncture are the crux of Chinese medical treatment for chronic digestive disorders. The choice of herbal prescriptions and acupuncture points are always based on the patients disease “pattern,” which is determined by their symptoms. So although two people may be diagnosed with heartburn, they may not present with the same symptoms and therefore not with the same “pattern” and they will likely have different herbal and point formulas. This is an important difference from allopathic/western medicine, which tends to treat all heart burn alike.
In reality most patients are a mixture of more than one pattern. We can divide the patterns into two major subtypes excess patterns and deficiency patterns. Excess usually implies stagnation (lack of good flow) of qi and/or blood. Deficiency can mean a lack of qi, blood, yin or yang.
In general, if symptoms are worse after eating, then it is an excess problem. If symptoms are better after eating, then it is a deficiency problem. Also, if the discomfort is better with movement, then it is usually an excess condition since movement will help to move stagnant qi and blood. On the other hand, symptoms that tend to get worse with movement are usually caused by a deficiency.
Although patients are often treated with both herbs and acupuncture, the more deficient a patient is, the more likely they will do more herbal therapy and less acupuncture. As a general rule, acupuncture is better at moving stagnation than at tonifying/building up, so acupuncture is better suited for treating excess conditions. Acupuncture needles may be placed over the abdomen as well as other areas. The spleen, stomach, large intestine and liver channels are channels that are often needled for their effects on digestion.
Among the major subtypes there are many different patterns. A qualified practitioner will be able to further differentiate between all the different patterns that a patient can present with. It is important to make a note of all a patients symptoms as they are key in creating a treatment plan that is specific to that patient.
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