Elizabeth (pseudonym) had been stressed from relationships between her co-workers. She often felt heat flaring up to her face and palpitations during meetings, which made her hard to converse normally. Even after she came home, it was hard for her to calm down and it took her 1-2 hours to fall asleep. She also experienced frequent heartburn and occasional abdominal pain.

 

Elizabeth was showing typical symptoms of SNS (sympathetic nervous system) hyperactivity. SNS comes into action when we have the flight-or-flight response (aka acute stress response). For example, we confront a bear in the woods. To fight or flight, we require a large amount of blood supply to the muscle tissues, and our heart rate goes up to pump more blood. Thus the patient experienced palpitations. Increased blood flow to the muscle tissues naturally reduces blood supply to the gastrointestinal system, because digesting food matters very little when we are in life or death situation. Thus, digestive issues arose such as loss of appetite, heartburn, bloating and acid reflux altogether with sleep problems from being very alert to changes (confronting stress or a bear) to her surroundings.

 

Certainly, not everyone rapidly reacts to stress like Elizabeth. We know that there is always that one friend who can sleep through a fire alarm without any problems. Thus, those who are hot-tempered, strongly opinionated easily develop symptoms like Elizabeth. Of course, patients who are introverted can also suffer from hyperactivity of SNS, but they will not show skin sensitivity or red face (heat flare up to the face). Three herbs were mainly used to treat Elizabeth: Huang Lian (Rhizoma Coptidis), Ban Xia (Rhizoma Pinelliae Ternatae) and Gua Lou Shi (Fructus Trichosanthis Kirlowil). Huang Lian is an extremely bitter herb that is often used to calm down the hyperactivity of SNS. Ban Xia is an effective herb for nausea and acid reflux regulates secretions of mucosal tissues. Lastly, Gua Lou Shi is an excellent herb for relieving chest tightness and pain. A combination of these main herbs and other supplementary herbs greatly reduced the symptoms that Elizabeth had and after three months of weekly continuous acupuncture and herbal treatments, all of her symptoms disappeared.