East Meets West

April 1, 2008
Acupuncture

Donna Day

Using acupuncture before and during surgery significantly reduces the level of pain and the amount of potent painkillers needed by patients after the surgery is over, according to a group of Duke Medical Center anesthesiologists.

"The most important outcome for the patient is the reduction of the side effects associated with opioids," a class of medications that includes morphine, says Tong Joo Gan, a Duke anesthesiologist who presented the results of the analysis at the annual conference of the American Society for Anesthesiology. While opioids are effective in controlling pain, the side effects of the drugs often influence a patient's recovery from, and satisfaction with, surgery, Gan says.

According to Gan's team, patients who received acupuncture had a significantly lower risk of developing the side effects most commonly associated with opioids, compared with a control group: 1.5 times lower rates of nausea, 1.3 times fewer incidences of severe itching, 1.6 times fewer reports of dizziness, and 3.5 times fewer cases of urinary retention.

Numerous studies, some conducted by Gan, have demonstrated that acupuncture can also be more effective than current medications in lessening the occurrence of common side effects. Acupuncture has the added benefits of being inexpensive, with virtually no side effects when administered correctly, Gan says.