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Acupuncture Calms Moms' Pre-Surgery Jitters

They report less anxiety as their children prepare for operation

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 15, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A brief session of acupuncture can quell a mother's anxiety before her child has surgery, and it can calm the child as well.

Helping parents control their anxiety before their child has an operation is important because worried parents can unintentionally upset the child, says a new study presented Oct. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in San Francisco.

Dr. Shu-Ming Wang, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Yale University School of Medicine, inserted tiny acupuncture needles called press needles, which resemble thumb tacks, into three areas of the ears of 34 mothers about 30 minutes before the child received anesthesia for surgery.

Another 33 mothers received sham acupuncture, with the needles inserted into areas with no acupuncture effect.

Wang measured the anxiety levels of the mothers and children before the needles were placed, and then measured the children's anxiety during induction of anesthesia and the mother's anxiety after the induction.

The children were aged 2 to 7 and none got pre-surgery sedatives. The mothers stayed with the children while the anesthesia was begun.

The acupuncture groups fared better, Wang found. The mothers' anxiety scores were six points lower in the acupuncture group, compared to the sham treatment group. And the children who got acupuncture scored 33 out of 100 on anxiety measures, compared to 47 out of 100 in the sham group, with the higher score indicating more anxiety.

"To our surprise, in the interventional group, more mothers said, 'We'd like to keep the needles in if we can,'" Wang says.

Wang used auricular acupuncture, "a little different than traditional Chinese acupuncture," she says. In auricular acupuncture, points on the outer ear are treated. Wang chose points known as relaxation, valium and master cerebral points.

The outer ear acts "like a switchboard to the brain," according to the Society of Auricular Acupuncturists, a British-based organization. It's believed that an acupoint on the ear, when treated, triggers electrical impulses from the brain to the specific body part being treated.

Wang says the points she chose may not be the only ones to soothe anxiety. "There are many other points that may be beneficial," she says.

The problem of parental anxiety before a child's surgery is common, Wang says. "We not only have to take care of the kids, but the parents are important, too," she says. "We have parents extremely anxious, for instance, when their kids have to have open-heart surgery."

If a sedative is prescribed for the parent, it can hamper her ability to help care for the child after surgery, she notes.

Asked to comment on Wang's study, Dr. Norman Levin, chief of anesthesiology at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles, says, "It has some potential." Acupuncture, says Levin, "is not a panacea, but it certainly has its areas of use."

Levin suggests a larger and longer study of the technique's ability to calm pre-surgery jitters, "but I think the downside of acupuncture is minimal."

More information

For information on auricular acupuncture, see the Society of Auricular Acupuncturists. To find an acupuncturist, check with the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

SOURCES: Shu-Ming Wang, M.D., associate professor, anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Norman Levin, M.D., chief, anesthesiology, Century City Hospital, Los Angeles; Oct. 15, 2003, presentation, American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting, San Francisco
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