Acupuncture Relieves Nausea After Surgery

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 17, 2001 -- For many of us, even more daunting than having to undergo surgery is the all-too-common aftermath -- nausea and vomiting. Sure, there are drugs to ease these nasty side effects of anesthesia, but they don't always work as well as hoped. Now there may be an effective alternative.

Two studies show that acupuncture relieves queasiness after surgery even better than the leading medications.

In the first study, Yale University anesthesiologist Shu-Ming Wang, MD, and colleagues looked at nearly 100 children receiving anesthesia for outpatient surgery. During surgery, the youngsters were randomly assigned to treatment with either the standard anti-nausea medication droperidol, which is given in the vein, or acupuncture in the forearm.

Children who had the acupuncture treatment were significantly less likely than the other children to feel nauseated or to vomit immediately after waking up from surgery.

According to Wang, other researchers have had similar success in adult patients who'd received stimulation of the same acupuncture point in the forearm with direct pressure, needles, electrical stimulation, or even lasers.

Wang says in a news release that in terms of preventive measures, "These results suggest that acupuncture can serve as a replacement for antinausea medications immediately following surgery."

The second new study, led by Duke University anesthesiologist Tong Joo Gan, MD, compared acupuncture to the anti-nausea drug Zofran and to receiving no treatment at all, in 40 women undergoing breast surgery.

"Acupuncture turns out to be just as effective as the drug or better," says Gan in a news release. This is especially important for this group, he says, as up to 70% of women undergoing serious breast surgery experience severe nausea and vomiting afterward.

"Our patients also reported much less pain after surgery, a finding that surprised us," adds Gan. In fact, nearly three-quarters of patients who'd received no anti-nausea drug and two-thirds of those who'd received Zofran complained of pain upon waking, compared to only a third of those who'd received acupuncture.

Researchers agree that acupuncture has several benefits over traditional drugs, especially following surgery: there are no side effects to speak of, and it will not interfere or interact with any other necessary medications.