In Oriental medicine, “heart disease” means quite a bit more than it does in Western medicine. Of course both medicines clearly recognize what first comes to mind when we hear the phrase “heart disease”: heart attack, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, etc. These are the most important and serious heart problems, after all, due to the potentially deadly consequences of blood circulation blockage. In addition, however, Oriental medicine also recognizes other heart conditions that may be relatively benign in comparison, but can still significantly impact our health and quality of life. Furthermore, Oriental medicine has the potential to treat both the serious and benign heart conditions, often times avoiding the need for Western medical intervention.
Of greatest concern is the potential of dying of a heart attack. While Western tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or treadmill test may detect potential problems, their application is limited. For example, the EKG, usually done first, reveals the electrical rhythm of the heart. By analyzing the rhythm it is possible to determine if there has already been damage to the heart regardless of whether or not there has been a previous heart attack. Of course there will already have to be damage to the heart for this result to show, so the EKG is not necessarily useful for preventative or predictive purposes.
If the EKG reveals problems, then the next step is the treadmill test or a stress test. When the patient is running his fastest his test will detect a problem if one of the 3 major coronary arteries is blocked, but only sometimes. One of those arteries needs to be at least 50% (some say 70%) blocked for the test to be somewhat useful. Even then, the test will only pick up about 60-65% of coronary artery disease (CAD) cases. Imagine a group of 100 patients with CAD, i.e., 100 people who should fail the test. As many as 35-40 of those people will walk away having been told they’re just fine despite the fact that they have a blockage. (If only one artery is blocked, the accuracy of the test is lower. If all 3 arteries are blocked, then the test is more accurate.) Furthermore, the stress test is less accurate for women than for men. One other major consideration about the usefulness of the stress test comes from recent research, which reveals that 70% of heart attacks occur when there is less than a 50% blockage. In other words, for 70% of heart attack patients, the stress test may actually be entirely useless.
There are other tests that can be performed to detect potential risk for heart attack. Today the “gold standard” test is the angiogram, but even that test has it drawbacks. Even if you managed to convince your health insurance to pay for it, if it’s not read properly, a risk for heart attack can be missed. Just like the stress tests, an angiogram can miss a 50% blockage.
Fortunately, however, the pulse diagnosis in Oriental medicine can be very effective at picking up even minor blockages of blood flow in the heart. With acupuncture and herbal medicine we are able to improve blood circulation as well as relieve disease symptoms. Of course, in urgent or severe cases we refer patients to appropriate Western medical care. After such referrals our medical director, Robert Doane, EAMP, L.Ac., has had more than a handful of pleasant surprises when he gets a call from a cardiologist, who asks, “How did you detect their heart problem?”
In addition to being able to detect problems with blood flow in the heart, pulse diagnosis can often reveal particular risk factors such as: coronary spasms, high blood pressure, diabetes, stress, inflammation, and arteriosclerosis. Although there are a few conditions that require medical treatment, such as primary hypertension, in most cases we are able to treat these conditions according to each individual’s needs.
Also, we can often detect milder conditions that may not be detected by a Western doctor: heart murmurs. The majority of heart murmurs are benign, which means they’re not likely to kill you. That doesn’t mean they don’t affect us, however. Western medicine recognizes that anxiety may accompany a murmur. Oriental medicine takes it a few steps further. We also consider other symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, chronic fatigue, and emotional sensitivity to be associated with heart murmurs. According to Chinese medical theory, our treatments help relieve the symptoms of heart murmurs by improving the efficiency of blood circulation through the heart. Clinically speaking, patients regularly report sleeping better, having more energy, and feeling much more resilient in life.
The majority of patients come to acupuncture and herbal medicine as a last resort, as their last hope of getting help when the Western medical system has dissatisfied them – or worse, failed them. But given the effectiveness of our results, it makes sense to try Oriental medicine first. If you, or someone you know, is concerned about their heart health, I encourage you to visit us sooner rather than later. The earlier we know about your symptoms, the more time and opportunity we have to help. Chinese medicine can be superior to Western medicine at creating health and preventing disease; having a healthy heart is no exception.
For more information, please visit us at one of the following community events:
Saturday February 11th Small Farms Expo Bremerton, WA
Thursday February 16th West Sound Business Expo Bremerton, WA
The Kitsap Mall every Saturday through the month of February in Silverdale, WA
Free Acupressure Workshop Tuesday February 21st at 7:00pm at our clinic in Poulsbo, WA