Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal and infant death. Globally, conservative estimates place the death toll at 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant deaths every year. In the United States, preeclampsia and other hypertensive syndromes account for about 18% of maternal deaths and about 15% of premature births every year. And while it is relatively common (affecting about 5-8% of pregnancies), a great deal of mystery surrounds hypertensive pregnancy. Western medicine has no known cause for these disorders and sometimes doesn't diagnose them until it's too late to save the baby or mother. Mysterious syndromes like this are where Traditional Chinese Medicine can offer some answers and treatments.
Over the past year, I have seen my husband make dramatic progress using TCM herbs, diet recommendations and acupressure to address digestive inflammation and autoimmune conditions. Eating healthy paved the way for better health, but TCM has helped him finally resolve long standing issues that we had no answers to before. TCM has also been known to resolve many cases of "unexplained" or "hopeless" infertility and autoimmune conditions. So what is it about TCM that makes it so different than Western methods?
For starters, TCM has been around for longer. Much longer. Wait, let me rephrase that. Much, much, much longer. The Chinese have been using what we call TCM for around 2,500 years, whereas our current pharmaceutical based approach has been in use for about 100 years. So with TCM we're talking about centuries of observation and practice, not years or even decades. The other difference is in approach. The Chinese used a pattern of inductive and deductive logic to understand how the body worked. Their understanding of anatomy and biology came from observing what strategies caused the disease (or disharmony as they would call it) to resolve itself. (This is why TCM terminology is different than that of Western medicine.) In contrast, Western medicine studies anatomy and biology and then bases treatment on its current theories of how the body works. While this can have some efficacy, it is limited because we are always learning new things about how the body works.
Another difference is that TCM tends to see the body as a whole with many interrelated parts while Western medicine tends to view diseases and disorders in isolation. For example, if you were to go to a Western doctor for fertility treatments, you might get a prescription for a drug to induce ovulation or undergo procedures to mechanically fertilize and implant eggs. The reproductive system is viewed as having a problem isolated from anything else in the body. But if you go to a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, she will feel your pulse, look at your tongue, ask you about your diet, and other symptoms like stools and urine, whether you tend to feel hot or cold, if you have headaches and when, if you are prone to certain kinds of infections like yeast infections or colds and flu, do you experience dizziness, changes in vision, etc. etc. (TCM is very thorough!) All of these are important to a TCM practitioner because the patterns of what is going on in the body as a whole can tell her what underlying disharmony is causing the infertility. Once she knows that, she can prescribe herbs, diet changes, and acupressure/acupuncture to help resolve that underlying disharmony and bring the body back into balance.
So back to preeclampsia. What can TCM tell us about preeclampsia? Well to start with, the patterns that are associated with high blood pressure are called Liver Yang Rising and Kidney Yin Deficiency. What symptoms are associated with these patterns? Liver Yang Rising is known to cause headaches, convulsions, seizures and hypertension, all symptoms of preeclampsia. In fact, bleeding from the liver is a serious complication that can result from preeclampsia. Liver Yang Rising is also associated with a phenomenon Western medicine calls a Transient Ishcemic Attack. A TIA is basically a mini-stroke and can often be a sign that there is risk for a major stroke. This is important because strokes are on the rise among pregnant women and preeclampsia is one of the main causes. Kidney Yin Deficiency presents with preeclampsia symptoms such as reduced dizziness, urine output and low backache.
One of the strengths of TCM is that it can address underlying problems rather than simply trying to perform damage control by using medications to stop symptoms. As we start to learn more about other kinds of medicines and open up to what they have to offer, we could potentially see some leaps forward in maternity care.