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Become A Fertility Sleuth: Identifying Your Infertility Diagnosis According To TCM.


Hold up. If this is your first encounter with The Fertility Guru Blog, I highly recommend you go back and read the post But Seriously, How Does Acupuncture Work?  to get a foundational grip on Eastern Medical Theory. 

Ok, great. Now that we have that under our belts we can dive into how Eastern Medicine differentiates infertility into distinct diagnoses. Take a gander below and pick out which diagnosis sounds the most like you. 

The Premise: 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on 1000+ years of what we would now consider clinical trials. Over those years Eastern doctors identified and parsed out groups of symptoms under the umbrella of one disease.  For example, someone who came to see an Acupuncturist with, say, acne, who had a red tongue and a rapid pulse would be diagnoses differently than another patient presenting with acne who had a yellow coated tongue and a slow pulse. Both patients would then receive entirely different acupuncture and herbal regimens.  In Western Medicine they would both be given accutane. See the difference?  

Regarding infertility, Eastern Medicine identifies 8 different patterns.  They are divided into 2 main categories of fertility dysfunction: Failure To Nourish and Obstruction. 

"Failure to Nourish" Patterns: 

1. Kidney Yang Deficiency: 

In TCM, the heat radiating from the Kidneys is the most powerful source of  energy. If Kidney Yang (aka Kidney heat) is low, there is a failure to nourish eggs, embryos, and tissues of the uterus. (See But Seriously, How Does Acupuncture Work? if you need help understanding the concept of Yang.) Kidney Yang must be strong in order to conceive.

Kidney Yang Deficiency Symptoms:

  • Prolonged menstrual cycle

  • Either scanty or heavy flow

  • Low backache

  • Feeling Cold 

  • Depression

  • Frequent Urination

2. Kidney Yin Deficiency

Too little Kidney Yin (aka cool fluids) can also cause infertility. Cool fluids nourish tissue and create supple environments for development. Too few fluids leave the tissues of the body feeling as dry as a desert. 

Kidney Yin Deficiency Symptoms:

  • Long term infertility

  • Early, scanty periods with light colored blood

  • The feeling of heat in your palms

  • Night sweats

3. Blood Deficiency Symptoms:

Blood has a similar function in both Eastern and Western Medicine. Blood carries iron and oxygen to the tissues, skin, organs and brain. Blood deficiency results in the following symptoms.

Blood Deficiency Symptoms: 

  • Scanty, pale periods

  • Delayed menstrual cycle

  • Tiredness

  • Pale complexion

  • Depression

  • Blurred Vision

"Obstruction" Patterns

Fertilization won't occur unless pathogenic factors obstructing the Uterus and meridians are cleared using acupuncture and herbs.

1. Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus is a very common cause of infertility. Think about being outside on a cold day in your teeshirt. The body's natural response is to tense up and keep the limbs close to the core. Similarly, if you have Cold in the Uterus, your reproductive functions tense up and stop Qi from circulating. The Cold dampens out the Yang heat that is necessary in fertilization. 

Cold in the Uterus symptoms:

  • Delayed cycle

  • Scanty periods with small clots

  • Painful periods that are better with heat

  • Feeling colder during your period

  • Pale face

  • Sore back

2. Blood Heat

If the blood is too hot, it may create adverse conditions for fertilization to occur. Just like a bird's egg, incubation must be neither too hot and nor too cold. 

Blood Heat Symptoms:

  • Early periods (short), up to twice a month

  • Heavy flow

  • Feeling hot during your period

  • Thirst

  • Mental restlessness

3. Qi Stagnation

Qi is the motive force in the body. If it stagnates or slows, its like trying to get something done in a bureaucracy; lots of starts and stops and a whole lot of built up tension. 

Qi Stagnation Symptoms: 

  • Irregular periods

  • Pre-menstrual tension

  • Painful periods

  • Breast tenderness

  • Irritability

4. Blood Stasis

Stagnant blood from scars and extra tissue like that in those suffering from endometriosis can obstruct the Uterus and channels involved in fertility. If Blood Stasis is sever and long standing it may not only give rise to endometriosis but also abdominal masses, ovarian cysts and myomas. 

Blood Stasis Symptoms: 

  • Irregular periods with dark clots

  • Painful periods

  • Irritability

  • Mental restlessness

  • Strong abdominal pain

5. Dampness

Dampness is like adding gelatinous fluids to a car engine. It prevents the proper movement of Qi and Blood in the reproductive organs. Damp Heat often corresponds to pelvic or tubal inflammation.

Dampness Symptoms: 

  • Irregular periods

  • Delayed cycle

  • Mid-cycle pain

  • Vaginal discharge

  • Long term infertility

  • Adhesions

  • Obesity

6. Phlegm

Phlegm is a thicker form of Dampness. There is almost always an element of Phlegm in cases of PCOS. 

Phlegm Symptoms: 

  • Scanty periods

  • A feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen

  • Obesity

  • Excessive vaginal discharge

  • Premenstrual breast swelling and pain 

Maciocia, Giovanni. Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. 

So which diagnosis do you identify with the most? Infertility is complex and patterns can intertwine.  To get help understanding the big picture, visit your local acupuncturist. They'll attack the root of your symptoms and prescribe an individualized, tailored treatment to get your body back in tip top fertility form. 

References: 

Maciocia, Giovanni. Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2011. Print.

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