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20 May 2013

Acupuncture relieves indigestion

A new wireless device that stimulates acupuncture points with electrical waves on the surface of the skin has been found to relieve indigestion symptoms in diabetic patients.

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A study from Texas Tech University, El Paso, and the University of Mississippi, Oxford, holds promising results for diabetic patients suffering from indigestion symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating and heartburn. The study tested a new method of therapy using a custom-made wireless device to stimulate acupuncture points with electrical waves on the surface of the skin rather than needles.

"Treatment options for this patient group are severely limited," said Richard McCallum, MD, professor and founding chair of the division of gastroenterology, department of medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. "This is a novel approach to symptom relief that overcomes the shortcomings of other therapies."

Fear of needles

Because of the limited pharmacological treatment options available, many patients build up a tolerance to prescribed medicine. Additionally, traditional acupuncture requires patients to make repeat appointments and a fear of needles may make it undesirable for many patients.

The wireless, needleless device tested in the study was designed by Jiande Chen, PhD, professor at the University of Texas' Medical Branch at Galveston, and allows clinicians to tailor the frequency and amplitude of the electrical waves used to stimulate acupuncture points.

Funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, patients were instructed to spend 240 minutes each day using the device on designated spots on the body. They kept a detailed diary tracking specific gastroparesis symptoms and the number of heartburn episodes per day.

Reduced vomiting, nausea and bloating

Dr McCallum worked with fellow Texas Tech professor Irene Sarosiek, MD, senior author of this project, to analyse results of a four-week period of use of the device. Compared to the placebo group, the device significantly improved five out of nine gastroparesis symptoms — vomiting was reduced by 39%, nausea by 30% and bloating by 21% . The number of heartburn episodes decreased significantly when patients utilised active stimulation.

"These exciting initial results have great potential for patients," Dr. McCallum said. "With the customisable features of the device, we can explore fine-tuning the therapy to directly target specific symptoms."

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