In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are “acupoints” that are used in acupuncture to help treat an ailing body. These acupoints are the target of an effective therapy that has been found to help diabetics cope with symptoms of “gastroparesis,” a common gastrointestinal issue in people with diabetes. That therapy is called electrical stimulation (ES).
Using ES at specific acupoints was found to help relieve such gastroparesis symptoms as nausea, vomiting, abdominal fullness, upper abdominal pain, and bloating. The results of this health breakthrough were shared this week at the American College of Gastroenterology’s annual meeting.
Gastroparesis, also known as “delayed gastric emptying,” is when the stomach experiences partial paralysis and food remains in it for longer than normal. It is a nerve issue, preventing muscles in the stomach and intestine from moving food along at a normal clip. Even after treatment, patients experience symptoms and often have to visit the doctor or the emergency room in the future. Symptoms can become very severe, and even life-threatening. Up to 15% of all diabetics in the U.S. suffer from gastroparesis.
The study used microstimulators to deliver the small electrical current to the acupoints. The device was worn on either the wrist or the leg, with patients receiving true ES for one month, followed by sham ES for another month. If you’re interested in where the acupoints were, one was on the inside forearm, above two finger-lengths up from the crease at the hand, and another on the front of the leg, about two inches below the kneecap, in the depression between shinbone and leg muscle.
Patients applied the electrical current themselves for two hours after each lunch and dinner. The study found that true ES “significantly improved” five of nine symptoms. It reduced nausea by 30%, vomiting by 39%, abdominal fullness by 21%, bloating by 21%, and retching by 31%.
As you see, all five symptoms had significant improvements between 20% and 40%. The best part is that it is a home-based therapy that is easy to use, and just requires commitment on behalf of the patient. Electrical stimulation is often applied to acupuncture treatments overall, and there is much evidence to suggest it leads to improvements in symptoms for a variety of conditions.
It is a small study, but ES is inexpensive, and there are few side effects. And, it may offer a glimmer of hope to those who have gastroparesis symptoms that are difficult to treat.
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