Researchers randomly assigned patients to receive either what’s
known as electroacupuncture, where an electrical current is passed
between a pair of acupuncture needles, or a dummy treatment with
similar needles, for eight weeks.
Compared with the dummy procedure, patients in the
electroacupuncture group experienced a significantly greater
increase in weekly bowel movements, the study found.
“Most of the patients with severe constipation have to take medicine
constantly for defecation,” said study co-author Dr. Jia Liu of the
China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing.
“Therefore, the patients with severe constipation may profit from
electroacupuncture treatment for its effectiveness, safety and the
sustained effect,” Liu added by email.
Because acupuncture can involve some pain and discomfort and
requires multiple weekly sessions, it still may make sense for
patients to consider this therapy only after they fail to respond to
traditional Western approaches like laxatives or medications, Liu
Chronic constipation occurs when a patient has no more than two
complete bowel movements per week with hard stools, frequent
straining and the sensation of incomplete evacuation.
Laxatives produce only temporary relief and nearly half of patients
are dissatisfied with their traditional therapies, Liu and
colleagues note in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
While some previous research has shown electroacupuncture can be
effective at increasing bowel movements, the current study is among
the first to document a lasting effect from this intervention, Liu
The 1,075 study participants underwent 28 sessions of
electroacupuncture at traditional acupoints, or sham
electroacupuncture at nonacupoints over eight weeks.
All had been constipated for at least three months but hadn't used
any medication for constipation for at least two weeks before the
start of the experiment.
After eight weeks, people in the electroacupuncture group
experienced on average 1.8 more bowel movements each week than they
did at the start of the study. Twelve weeks later, this group had
about two more bowel movements a week on average than they did at
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The group getting dummy treatments improved, too. They had about 0.9
more bowel movements on average each week by the end of the
intervention than they did at the start of the study, but didn’t
continue to improve over the subsequent twelve weeks.
By the end of the 20-week follow-up, about 38 percent of the
electroacupuncture group had at least three bowel movements a week,
compared with just 14 percent in the dummy treatment group.
One limitation of the study is that it’s too short to see if
electroacupuncture might provide sustained relief from constipation,
the authors note.
More research is also needed to determine if electroacupuncture is
safer or more effective than laxatives or other medications for
constipation, the authors also point out.
In the U.S., electroacupuncture treatments cost about $75 to $120.
Some patients, including pregnant women and people with heart
disease, can’t have electroacupuncture, said Zhang Jianbin, a
researcher at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine who wasn’t
involved in the study.
The treatment is also not recommended for people with seizures or
Others who are open to this alternative and perhaps haven’t fared
well with laxatives or other interventions might, however, be good
candidates for electroacupuncture, Zhang said by email.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2ctX64j Annals of Internal Medicine, online
September 13, 2016.
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