Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestines. It causes inflammation and ulcers along the lining of the colon.
There’s no cure for UC, but working with your doctor and starting a treatment plan can reduce the severity of your symptoms. This can also bring about periods of remission, which is when your symptoms go away.
Traditional medication for this condition includes anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressant drugs. These medications work to stop inflammatory responses.
Even if medication improves your symptoms and quality of life, UC is a lifelong condition. Episodes of diarrhea, bloody stools, and stomach pain can return.
When medication alone doesn’t keep your body in remission, it might be time to look into alternative or complementary therapy programs like acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine. This type of therapy involves pricking or inserting tiny needles into different points of the body at various depths.
The goal of therapy is to restore the flow of energy throughout the body. Correcting this imbalance stimulates healing, promotes relaxation, and relieves pain.
Acupuncture has been widely used to treat a variety of conditions. Some of these include arthritis, back pain, depression, and fibromyalgia. It’s also used to soothe labor pain and menstrual cramps.
Acupuncture may be an effective therapy for ulcerative colitis because it activates or enhances the body’s natural painkillers. This helps your body regulate inflammation, decreases disease activity, and lessens pain associated with UC.
Keep in mind that there isn’t hard evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture for UC.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there has only been one clinical trial to test the benefits of using acupuncture for UC treatment. Similarly, a 2016 review looked at 63 studies between 1995 and 2015 that evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture for UC. But there were large variations among the treatments in these studies.
Some of these studies involved acupuncture and moxibustion (a type of heat therapy) combined with drug treatment. Other studies examined the use of acupuncture and moxibustion therapy alone.
More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture alone in improving bowel inflammation.
There are no guarantees that acupuncture treatment will help you. But acupuncture is generally safe and offers other potential health benefits. The only way to know if it will work is to give it a try.
If you decide to try acupuncture, ask your doctor or gastroenterologist to recommend a certified acupuncturist. Or, use an online search tool to locate a certified provider in your area.
During the initial consultation, your acupuncturist will ask about your condition and symptoms. Based on this information, they’ll estimate the number of treatments you’ll need per week. They’ll also figure out the number of overall treatments you’ll need.
This number varies depending on your condition and how severe it is. It’s not unusual to receive between six and eight treatments.
You’ll lie on an exam table throughout your appointment. It’s important that you remain completely still. Once you’re relaxed, your acupuncturist will insert the needles into your skin at different points and at specific depths.
The needle should cause little to no discomfort. You may feel a slight twinge of pain if your acupuncturist has to manipulate a needle to achieve the right depth. You may also feel a sensation if your acupuncturist heats the needles or sends mild electrical pulses through the needles.
The number of needles you’ll receive can range from 5 to 20. Needles will usually stay in place for 10 to 20 minutes.
After you complete the recommended number of treatments, track your UC symptoms for improvement. If acupuncture helps your symptoms, you can schedule appointments for maintenance therapy. If your symptoms don’t improve, acupuncture might not be the right therapy for you.
For the most part, acupuncture is a safe procedure, but it isn’t right for everyone.
Possible side effects can include minor bleeding, bruising, or soreness. There’s also the risk of infection, but this is unlikely when using a trained, certified acupuncturist. These professionals know the importance of single-use, disposable needles.
Acupuncture is worth considering if you don’t have a fear of needles. You might also want to try it if you’re able to tolerate mild discomfort or sensations from needles pricking your skin.
This therapy might not be right for you if you have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning medication. These factors can increase your risk of bleeding, so speak with your doctor first.
You should also avoid acupuncture if you have a pacemaker. Electrical pulses sent through acupuncture needles could interfere with your pacemaker.
Lastly, avoid acupuncture if you’re pregnant. This therapy may stimulate premature labor and delivery.
More research needs to be done to confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture for UC. Even so, acupuncture is a generally safe alternative therapy. It’s worth a try if you’re looking for a natural approach to relieve symptoms.
It’s important to consult your doctor before starting acupuncture treatments. This helps ensure you’re a good candidate for this treatment.
Also, make sure you choose a practitioner with proper training. This can reduce the risk of complications. If possible, use a provider who has experience treating people living with UC.