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Acupuncture ‘Minimally’ Helpful for Breathlessness

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A standardized acupuncture technique is only marginally better than placebo treatment for people with disabling breathlessness that is not a result of cancer, according to a new report.

A standardized acupuncture technique is only marginally better than placebo treatment for people with disabling breathlessness that is not a result of cancer, according to a new report. The acupuncture technique was previously shown to be beneficial in an open study of cancer patients with breathlessness, the authors explain in the medical journal Chest. Also, a small pilot study confirmed the feasibility of having nurse acupuncturists perform the procedure in breathless patients. Dr. George T. Lewith from Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton, UK, and colleagues compared a standardized acupuncture technique with a mock treatment given to 36 patients with disabling breathlessness, 33 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The participants were crossed over from one procedure to the other in random fashion. The average breathlessness improved after the first round of treatment, regardless of whether the patient received acupuncture or mock treatment, the authors report, and further improvement was seen after the second phase of treatment. For the 12 patients who completed both phases of the study, acupuncture provided a slightly better improvement in breathlessness, but this was not statistically significant. “If more patients had been entered,” the investigators write, “we might have reached a statistically significant result for real acupuncture versus placebo, but because the change was so small…it is arguable that this would have been of limited clinical relevance to breathless patients.” Also, there were no significant differences in the treatments’ effects as measured by a quality-of-life questionnaire, the researchers note. “Acupuncture, in this condition, is effective but not hugely efficacious,” Lewith told Reuters Health. “It may help, but as with all treatments in this condition its major effect is non-specific…But it is safe.” However, he added, “This condition is very difficult to treat, so anything that is safe and fairly free from side effects is a good idea.” (Source: Reuters Health Chest, June 2004)

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Posted On: 2 June, 2004
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

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