Recurrent pregnancy loss, recurrent miscarriage, and threatened miscarriage: how can acupuncture help?
Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), recurrent miscarriage, (RM) and threatened miscarriage (TM) are heartbreaking, emotionally exhausting, and physically traumatic. During my 17 years as an acupuncturist and RN specializing in fertility, I have treated many women who have suffered these types of pregnancy losses. I have also had the profound honor of helping many women through such unfortunate losses to then give birth to a happy, healthy little one.
Some known causes of recurrent miscarriage (RM) and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) include:
- Chromosome defects
- Structural issues with the uterus
- Hormone or endocrine imbalances
- Autoimmune disorders, wherein the immune system attacks itself by mistake.1
When miscarriage is threatened (TM), women may have symptoms such as varying amounts of bleeding, cramping, and low back pain. Every woman who has these symptoms wants to do as much as possible to avoid a miscarriage. Medical management can include monitoring with ultrasounds as well as blood draws to track the Beta HCG levels in the blood stream. Even with this ideal approach, being aboard the “wait-and-see” or “try-not-to-worry” train is a lonely, nerve-wracking ride for any woman who is currently pregnant and has experienced prior miscarriages.
Good news at this point can be very welcome. For the past 2,500-3,000 years, Chinese medicine has provided acupuncture treatments specifically for women’s health and obstetric problems, including patterns of pregnancy loss.
A small study in Australia conducted by noted researchers Debra Betts, Caroline A. Smith and Hannah G. Dahlen found that women who had acupuncture during periods of threatened miscarriage experienced the following:
- Reduced bleeding
- Less severe cramping
- Reduced back pain
- Supportive space to discuss stressors, guilt and negative feelings
- Benefits in being able to talk with a healthcare practitioner, which reduced pressure on spouses, family and friends
This study states:
“Acupuncture was a treatment viewed as acceptable for referral by health practitioners and considered by women to provide useful emotional support and relief from physical and emotional symptoms related to threatened miscarriage.”2
These are exactly the same results I have witnessed over the years when treating my patients that have a threatened miscarriage. If you or a loved one is weathering the intensity of recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), recurrent miscarriage (RM), or threatened miscarriage (TM, please explore the option of acupuncture with a trained practitioner who specializes in women’s health and fertility.
What is important to know about genetics, miscarriage and acupuncture?
We do know that approximately 50% of miscarriages are due to chromosome problems of the fetus. Causes for the remaining 50% are unknown.2 However, there is a growing body of medical knowledge concerning the impact of women’s genetic issues on pregnancy and carrying to term.
Many women have discovered that they carry genes which can increase their risk of miscarriage. Most of these genetic differences cause blood clotting problems. Blood-clotting abnormalities, also known as “thromobophilic disorders,” can cause the following fertility issues:
- Altered placenta attachment
- Recurrent implantation failure (RIF) during in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles
- Placental abruption (a separation of the placenta from the uterine wall causing reduced nutrients and oxygen for the fetus and heavy bleeding for the mother)
- Pre-eclampsia, which causes dangerously high blood pressure around 20-weeks pregnancy
- Low birth weight, also known as, intrauterine growth restriction or intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR)
- Still birth.1
The following are some of the most frequently seen genetic findings in women with IVF failures:
- MTHFR, particularly the C667T mutation
- ACE gene
- PAI-1 gene
- Factor V and Factor II (less common)
While acupuncture cannot change human genetic structure, research on this shows that acupuncture can beneficially regulate the immune system as well as reduce inflammation in the body. If you are a woman with genetic mutations or suspect you may have them, flare-ups in your immune system as well as levels of general inflammation in your body can impact having a successful pregnancy. Acupuncture is scientifically recognized for constructive shifts in the immune system as well as reducing inflammation.
Additionally, acupuncture has a profoundly calming effect on the mind and spirit. When you feel better and calmer, this can reduce stress hormones.3,4
If you have faced repeated pregnancy losses and/or unsuccessful IVF cycles, working with an experienced and trusted medical team is a must. To assure effective evaluation and genetic testing, this team should consist of a gynecologist, a reproductive endocrinologist and a genetic counselor. Women may not routinely consider having an acupuncturist who works with fertility issues on their team but doing so can make a huge and successful difference.
1 Khosravi, F., Zarei, S., Ahmadvand, N., Akbarzadeh-Pasha, Z., Savadi, E., Zarnani, A-H., …Jeddi-Tehrani, M (2014). Association between plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 gene mutation and different subgroups of recurrent miscarriage and implantation failure. Journal of Assisted Reproductive Genetics, 31, 121-124.
2 Betts, D., Smith, C., & Dahlen, H. G. (2016). Does acupuncture have a role in the treatment of threatened miscarriage? Findings from a feasibility randomized trial and semi-structured participant interviews. BMC Pregnancy and ChildbirthBMC series-open, inclusive, and trusted 2016, 16:298. doi: 10.1186/s12884-016-1092-8