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Acupuncture can help treat lung disease

Published: 17 May 2012
Professor George Lewith

Acupuncture can help relieve the breathing problems people experience with chronic lung disease, a University of Southampton researcher says.

According to Professor George Lewith, from the University’s Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit, acupuncture will significantly improve the quality of life for patients with the condition.

Professor Lewith’s editorial compliments results of a small Japanese clinical trial, presented in Archives of Internal Medicine, which showed acupuncture’s substantial effects on dyspnea (laboured breathing) on exertion (DOE), in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The management of dyspnea is the most important target in the treatment of COPD, an irreversible impairment of lung function, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is often caused by smoking. It is predicted to be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2020.

“The effects of acupuncture are large,” says Professor Lewith. “This is quite remarkable in a condition that seems to respond fairly poorly to more conventional treatments.

“Acupuncture relaxes all the muscles around the chest wall. It's consistent with what we're trying to do conventionally, which helps patients with their breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. When people feel less breathless their quality of life improves dramatically.”

Professor Lewith adds: “More research is needed to validate the study’s findings so we can then consider if acupuncture should be provided through by NHS.”

The study, led by Masao Suzuki from Kyoto University in Japan, recruited 68 adults with COPD who were then split into two groups – half received acupuncture for 12 weeks, the other half received placebo acupuncture, or blunt needles that did not actually enter the skin. All of the participants stayed on whatever medications they had previously been prescribed.

When researchers administered walking tests and monitored participants for breathing difficulties, they found that those who had received the real acupuncture were far less breathless and had a much better quality of life at 12 weeks than those in the placebo group.

“We demonstrated clinically relevant improvements in DOE, nutrition status (including BMI), airflow obstruction, exercise capacity and health-related quality of life after three months of acupuncture treatment,” says Masao Suzuki.

“Randomized trials with larger sample sizes and longer-term interventions with follow-up evaluations are necessary to confirm the usefulness of acupuncture for COPD.”

To view the study’s findings and Professor Lewith’s editorial visit http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1151703

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