Anemia During Pregnancy and TCM

Anemia is a medical condition in which there is not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues in the body. When the tissues do not receive an adequate amount of oxygen, many organs and functions are affected. Anemia during pregnancy is especially a concern because it is sometimes associated with low birth weight, premature birth and and in extreme cases maternal mortality.

Women who are pregnant are at a higher risk for developing anemia due to the excess amount of blood the body produces to help provide nutrients for the baby. Anemia during pregnancy can be a mild condition and easily treated if caught early on. However, it can become dangerous, to both the mother and the baby, if it goes untreated.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Anemia - Diagnostic Patterns

The traditional Chinese medicine view of blood deficiency (xuexu) doesn't correspond completely to the modern medical concept of anemia. This divergence in interpretation often leads to misunderstandings on how TCM can help pregnant patients.

Although there are many types of anemia described in modern medicine (some of them related to rare deficiencies of blood cell production or altered hemoglobin formation), by far the most common type-and the one that might come closest to the usual description of blood deficiency in Chinese medicine-is iron deficiency anemia.

The causes, such as excessive menstrual bleeding, are the same in the two systems. Iron deficiency is easily measured by taking a blood sample and evaluating its iron constituents, such as hematocrit (red blood cell proportion), hemoglobin (iron-based blood component), and serum ferritin (iron storage protein). From a symptomatic point of view, there are typical indicators of blood deficiency, which sometimes overlap and sometimes differ in the two medical systems.

Easy fatigue is attributed to qi deficiency in the Chinese medicine texts referenced here, and a swollen tongue and shortness of breath may also correspond to qi deficiency. It should be noted that tachycardia is not the same as palpitation, the latter referring to the experience of feeling the heart beat, which seems fast; speeded up heart rate may occur with palpitation. Irritability is sometimes associated in Chinese medicine with a liver qi stagnation syndrome, which, according to doctrine, can arise with liver blood deficiency, but irritability is not considered a typical symptom within the general blood deficiency pattern. Potentially, iron deficiency anemia might correspond to a diagnosis of deficiency of qi and blood in the Chinese system.

While blood deficiency is a commonly treated syndrome in traditional Chinese medicine, with Blood deficiency described as occurring from excessive blood loss (with insufficient replacement) and by "inadequacy of the blood factors and components required in blood formation due to spleen and stomach dysfunction."

It is also possible that blood deficiency could arise secondary to blood stasis. This problem is usually attributed to the idea that generation of new blood requires getting rid of old blood, and blood stasis indicates old blood that is retained.

Modern medical treatment of iron deficient anemia is straightforward and easy: the main thrust is a diet rich in iron. Then, if necessary, iron supplements can be administered (many of these are available over-the-counter).

The Chinese treatment of anemia most often revolves around the use of a small number of herbs, with tang-kuei as the central one. This herb is an ingredient in the principal blood nourishing formulas of Chinese medicine, such as Siwu Tang, Danggui Buxue Tang, Guipi Tang, and Bazhen Tang.

These and other Traditional Chinese practices and insights into anemia all form part of TCM, each adding a little to the history and methodology of Acupuncture and Herbs.

Eca Brady is a fully licensed physician of Chinese Medicine BSc(Ac) MBAcC PGDip(CHM), practicing Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs from Harley Street, London. Make an appointment for an acupuncture or Herbs treatment and we can discuss how we can help you, to read more about Eca click here.

Extract from University of Maryland Medicine