Treating Stroke with Traditional Chinese Medicine
A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is the rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to lack of blood flow or a hemorrhage. Depending on the area of the brain that is affected patients may suffer from an inability to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, an inability to understand or formulate speech, or an inability to see one side of the visual field.
Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol,smoking, old age, previous stroke, and atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor of stroke. It is the third leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer. Stroke affects more than 700,000 individuals annually in the United States. About 500,000 of these are first attacks, and 200,000 are recurrent attacks.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used to prevent and treat the stroke patients.
Chinese medicine can be very helpful for preventing stroke and its associated risk factors. Acupuncture and herbs can help offset the systemic imbalances that contribute to stroke. These are issues such as long-term emotional and physical stress, being overworked, poor diet and dietary habits such as eating too fast, at odd hours, etc. and an overall lack of relaxation. Of course, the patient has to be willing to adapt their lifestyle, too.
On the rehabilitative side, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve muscular strength, muscle tone, speech disorder, and swallowing function. I usually choose points on Liver and Kidney channels since there are most commonly involved channels in stroke. However, different patients have their own characteristics. I will make a differential diagnosis for each stroke patient based on the stroke history and manifestation from tongue and pulse. In addition, I typically use scalp needles and attach mild electrical stimulation to the needles to speed-up the recovery.
As an acupuncturist and physician, I worked at the neurological center in China Sichuan State Hospital & Sichuan Provincial Academy of Medical Science for 13 years, where I treated 30-40 stroke patients daily in ICU and the regular wards.
A stroke patient came to see me in the AOMA clinic with his wife two weeks after the onset of the stroke. I could feel how stressed the couple was. The patient once was very happy with a positive attitude to his life. When he came into my office he was so depressed. He couldn’t walk, speak, or dress himself. After collecting all the medical history from him and his wife, I observed his tongue and felt his pulse. Then I gave a therapeutic plan for him. One month later, he already started walking and his fingers could grasp tightly. His life attitude completely changed. He is happy again after realizing that he can live normally under my care.
Sometimes, during the acupuncture treatment, I will give some Chinese herbs based on individual needs. For certain people the herbs can be very helpful in stroke recovery. I also give dietary recommendations to each patient to make sure the risk factors of stroke are under strict control and patient’s diet is balanced and healthy.
Dr. Nelson Song Luo is a faculty member at AOMA and sees patients in the professional clinic.