It is thought that COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) affects 64 million people worldwide, which has brought on a large and growing economic and social burden. According to the World Health Organisation projections, it will be the third leading cause of death by 2030. COPD usually lasts for a long time and can easily relapse. The key to treating it is optimising treatment plan to slow down the disease process and prevent the decline of lung function.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory emphasises that everything is interdependent and mutually interactive in the universe. Health reflects a harmonious balance of energies within an individual while disease results from their disharmony. When changes occur and the body fails to adapt, then disease is likely to occur. Curing the patient is based on the person instead of the disease.
Recent research shows that acupuncture and moxibustion may be valuable modalities in managing symptoms of COPD. Differing from western medicine, acupuncture and moxibustion treat the patient’s body as a whole with interconnecting parts. The principle of acupuncture and moxibustion is to promote, regulate, stimulate the body’s self-regulating function and self-rehabilitation ability to achieve recovery.
In China, many acupuncture and moxibustion modalities are regularly used for COPD patients. Several clinical trials have shown that they might have a therapeutic effect for COPD patients including improvement of symptoms and quantity of life.
Electro-acupuncture utilises electric current to stimulate the acupoints. It is a combination of acupuncture and electrical stimulation, which can improve the efficacy of acupuncture. Studies show that electro- acupuncture at meridian acupoints can reduce the airway resistance during the lung ventilation of the COPD patients and improve their oxygenation function. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an electrotherapy method that exerts a specific low-frequency pulse current to treat diseases.
Warming needle moxibustion is a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion. A study done by Lei Fang and Yueming Wen at the School of Rehabilitation and Science, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, shows that warm needle moxibustion is effective in pulmonary function of elderly patients with COPD. It shows that moxibustion has a similar effect on the improvement of pulmonary function index compared with drug. In this study, specific acupuncture points were punctured as the main acupoints and some secondary acupuncture points were used as matching acupoints. Another study also suggests that moxibustion improves the pulmonary function of the patient with COPD in the stable phase, releases clinical symptoms and improves life quality.
TCM emphasises warming method to invigorate Yang-Qi for COPD. The main reason for treating patients in summer is warming yang eradicating cold. What’s more, it contains the theory of preventive treatment and it is important to supply Yang-Qi to reach a balance of Yin-Yang of the body in the summer so that the body can resist pathogenic factors in the winter. Moxibustion during the hottest days in summer effectively relieves the symptoms of respiratory disease.
Acupuncture and moxibustion are safe, cost-effective, complementary for patients with COPD. Research has confirmed the safety and efficiency of acupuncture and moxibustion.
The author is Head of the Department of Acupuncture, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi. This treatment is now being made available in India.