Sept. 22, 2004 -- A high-tech, acupuncture-like therapy appears to be as effective as the leading medication in treating nausea and vomiting following major breast surgery.
What's more, researchers also discovered that stimulating the specific acupuncture point employed significantly eased post-operative pain, something previously speculated but not studied in Western medicine, according to experts.
"We really weren't surprised by the post-operative nausea and vomiting relief we saw, because the specific acupuncture point we used -- known as P6 and located near the wrist -- is known to be the primary acupuncture point for relieving nausea and vomiting," says T.J. Gan, MD, anesthesiologist and director of clinical research at Duke University Medical Center, who led the study.
Previous studies have shown that placing acupuncture needles on P6, one of as many as 2,000 different acupuncture points on the body, helps prevent and relieve nausea and vomiting. In fact, P6's acupuncture properties are the principle behind wearing commercially available wristbands to prevent and relieve seasickness, says Gan.
Less Pain and No Needles
"What surprised us were the pain-relieving properties we saw. There are several acupuncture points that have been shown to be good for pain relief, but until now, P6 was not one of them widely considered or even used," he tells WebMD. "So in essence, with P6 you may be able to kill two birds with one stone."
Rather than traditional acupuncture needles, a method used for some 5,000 years and among the world's most practiced therapies, Gan used a tiny device in which an electrode like that in standard EKG tests is attached to the specific acupuncture point. He was testing whether its electrical charge would provide the same type of antinausea effect achieved with acupuncture needles.
In his study, published in the October issue of Anesthesia and Analgesia, Gan tracked 75 cancer patients recovering from major breast surgery.
One group of women received electrostimulation after surgery; another received Zofran, a widely used drug to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy, radiation, anesthesia, and surgery; and a third group received neither type of treatment.
Two hours after surgery, 77% of the women receiving electrostimulation experienced no post-operative nausea or vomiting (PONV), and required no antisickness drugs. That compared with only 64% getting Zofran and 42% of those who relieved neither treatment.
At 24 hours following surgery, there was still no PONV in 73% among those getting electroacupuncture, compared with 52% of those getting the Zofran and 38% receiving neither treatment.
In questioning the patients, Gan's team also learned that those who were treated with electrode stimulation on P6 reported significantly less overall pain and a higher satisfaction level following surgery than the others.
The Point of Acupuncture
Acupuncture involves placing thin needles into the skin at specific points believed to connect with 12 main and eight secondary pathways called meridians. Piercing into these meridians, or periodically twisting the needle, is said to stimulate the flow of energy (or qi, pronounced "chee") to better regulate spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang (negative and positive energy). Sometimes, tiny electrodes are attached to the needles to better stimulate qi with a tiny jolt of electricity, a more invasive version of what Gan's team did.
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