Safety Concerns for Acupuncture in Dyspepsia During Pregnancy
Dyspepsia is a pain or an uncomfortable feeling in the upper abdomen. It includes all the symptoms that expecting mothers are so familiar with - bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, burping, and a burning stomach pain. Although this is a common problem, the use of medication in pregnancy is always a concern. Normally, antacids (that neutralize stomach acid) and alginates (negatively charged polysaccharide found in the cell walls of brown algae that protect the esophagus by forming a protective 'raft' when they come in contact with stomach acid) are used to relieve dyspepsia during pregnancy. Most of these are safe but products containing magnesium have a tendency to cause constipation and those containing aluminum may have a laxative effect. Acid suppressing drugs such as ranitidine and omeprazole are other options but if you do not prefer popping pills, you can go in for acupuncture which is a safe, drug-free treatment ideally suited to pregnancy according to the acupuncture therapists.
Lot of evidence exists about the use of acupuncture for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, but not much is known about the efficacy of acupuncture for other dyspepsia complaints. So, researchers João Bosco Guerreiro da Silva and colleagues from Department of Internal Medicine, Rio Preto Medical College, Sao Jose do Rio Preto, Brazil, conducted a study to observe the effects of acupuncture on symptomatic dyspepsia during pregnancy and to compare this with a group of patients undergoing conventional treatment alone. This study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil. The results appeared in Acupuncture in Medicine, scientific journal published by the BMJ group.
A total of 42 subjects in the age group of 15 to 39 years at 15 to 30 weeks of pregnancy and dyspepsia symptoms were chosen for the study. These women were randomly placed into 'to be treated with acupuncture' and 'not to be treated with acupuncture' groups. Six women dropped out - one in the acupuncture group and five in the control group. Acupuncture was performed once a week, (sometimes twice if necessary) during 8 weeks. Traditional acupuncture, using sterilized stainless steel needles of 40 mm in length and 0.2 mm diameter, was performed respecting the classical acupuncture points including depth of insertion.
The results showed that the acupuncture group had significantly reduced symptoms of dyspepsia and, moreover, the capacity to sleep and eat increased in the acupuncture group. In the researchers' words, 'We could also see, in the case group, an increase in the capacity to sleep and eat, some aspects that usually deteriorate during the evolution of the gestation. A situation that is worse when a gravida (pregnant woman) suffers from dyspeptic disorders'. They found acupuncture to be an 'effective means of reducing the symptoms and improving the quality of life for gravidas'. They, however, recommend randomized studies of larger populations to confirm their findings.
Despite positive results, using acupuncture in pregnancy is still a strong concern. It is believed that there are certain 'forbidden points' that could induce uterine contractions. Although no adverse effects were seen in this study, the researchers feel that until more research is done sacral or lower abdominal points should be avoided.
1. da Silva JB, Nakamura MU, Cordeiro JA, Kulay L Jr, Saidah R. Acupuncture for dyspepsia in pregnancy: a prospective, randomised, controlled study. Acupunct Med. 2009 Jun;27(2):50-3 http://aim.bmj.com/content/27/2/50.long