Acupuncture relieves the indigestion and heartburn that bother many women as their pregnancy progresses, a new Brazilian study shows.
"Although small, this study suggests that acupuncture can relieve symptoms of indigestion that are pretty common in pregnancy and may provoke loss of quality of life in the final days, disturbing not only eating but also sleeping," said lead researcher Dr. Joao Bosco Guerreiro da Silva, MD, PhD, from the department of internal medicine at Rio Preto Medical College.
Indigestion is common during pregnancy, with up to 80% of moms-to-be suffering heartburn, stomach pain or discomfort, reflux, belching and bloating. Symptoms tend to worsen as the pregnancy progresses, and women who avoid taking medicine for fear of harming the developing fetus might welcome an alternative treatment.
For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 42 pregnant women with indigestion to dietary counseling plus antacids, or to dietary counseling and antacids plus acupuncture, once or twice a week. The researchers assessed the women's symptoms at the beginning of the study and every two weeks after that for eight weeks.
Heartburn, the main symptom, was reduced by half in 75% of the women treated with acupuncture. Women receiving acupuncture also ate and slept better, he said.
The 20 women who underwent acupuncture and completed the study reported having milder symptoms and took less medication than the 16 women getting conventional therapy, the researchers found.
Fewer than half the women receiving traditional treatment said their heartburn was halved.
Among the 14 women who took antacids, seven in each group, those receiving acupuncture took 6.3 fewer doses, while those receiving conventional treatment upped the amount of medication they took by 4.4 doses, the researchers found.
In addition, 15 women in the acupuncture group said that their eating habits improved by 50%, compared with fewer than one in three in the other group. Fourteen women receiving acupuncture said their sleep had improved by 50%, compared with just one in four women treated conventionally.
The report was published in Acupuncture in Medicine.
"Dyspepsia (indigestion) in pregnancy is a very common problem," Dr. Guerreiro da Silva said. "Medication is always a concern. Acupuncture can be effective. It is safe and simple to apply and every pregnant woman can be treated."
Richard Frieder, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, doesn't think that acupuncture works any better than conventional treatment.
"This is an interesting idea but far from proves any benefit, as the control group did not have any type of placebo treatment, such as fake acupuncture to make the control and test group comparable," Dr. Frieder said.
Indigestion and heartburn are common in pregnancy and usually successfully treated with diet, sleep positioning and medication with no known harmful effects, Dr. Frieder noted.
"Acupuncture might be a nice alternative for women who are inclined to this option, but it is doubtfully more effective than standard treatment if the study had been done in an apples-to-apples comparison," he said.
Another expert thinks that acupuncture does relieve indigestion, but he won't perform it on pregnant women because of concerns about litigation.
"It is a well-done study and it is expected that there would be positive results," said Marshall H. Sager, DO, past president of the American Society of Medical Acupuncture and an acupuncturist in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
However, he worries that he would be sued if something went wrong with the pregnancy. "I wouldn't touch a pregnant lady with acupuncture because of the malpractice situation. Not that it's not effective, but that's my problem with the medical/legal aspects of it," he said.