Proponents of acupuncture anaesthesia have tended to look on it as a replacement for conventional anaesthesia. This randomised, controlled trial involving 250 cancer patients undergoing abdominal or pelvic surgery, has aimed to assess the use of electroacupuncture as the sole analgesic, but within a standard anaesthetic. It was found that while there was little difference between the per-operative requirement for anaesthetic drugs, all the non acupuncture group required fentanyl, compared to only 5% of the electroacupuncture group (P<0.001). Time to spontaneous respiration (P<0.02) and extubation (P<0.001) immediately post-operatively was reduced in the acupuncture group.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) was used for post-operative pain relief in the acupuncture group, while the control group received non-narcotic analgesics. There was no significant difference in the numbers of patients complaining of pain, but the requirement for additional analgesia was less when TENS was used (P<0.01). There was no difference in the period of post-operative ileus as measured by the return of normal bowel sounds. However the return to normal self caring was significantly improved in the acupuncture group (P<0.02). Both practically and economically this is probably the most important beneficial aspect of electroacupuncture demonstrated by this study.
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