Got heartburn? Put away the antacids. A new study has found needleless acupuncture — a technique that uses a wireless device to stimulate pressure points on the body — can ease heartburn, as well as other gastrointestinal problems, such as indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and bloating in people with diabetes.
The study — by researchers at Texas Tech University, El Paso, and the University of Mississippi, Oxford — 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.
The research, presented at a digestive diseases conference in Orlando this week, was one of several new studies released that focus on managing digestive health through diet and lifestyle.
People with diabetes often suffer digestive disorders that are difficult to address. Because of the limited drug treatments available, patients often build up a tolerance to medicine. In addition, traditional acupuncture requires patients to make repeat appointments and a fear of needles may put off patients.
"Treatment options for this patient group are severely limited," said Richard McCallum, M.D., 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."
The wireless, needleless device tested in the study was designed by Jiande Chen, a 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.
For the study, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, patients spent 240 minutes each day using the device on designated spots on the body. They kept a detailed diary tracking specific gastric symptoms and heartburn episodes per day.
After a four-week period, patients using the device reported significants improvements in five out of nine symptoms — vomiting was reduced by 39 percent, nausea by 30 percent, and bloating by 21 percent. The number of heartburn episodes decreased significantly when patients utilized active stimulation.
"These exciting initial results have great potential for patients," Dr. McCallum said. "With the customizable features of the device, we can explore fine-tuning the therapy to directly target specific symptoms."
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