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Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Diagnosis and Treatment of Patients in a Pragmatic Trial

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Publication details

JournalJournal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)
DatePublished - 15 Nov 2012
Issue number11
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)1021-1027
Original languageEnglish


Abstract Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the treatments delivered during a pragmatic effectiveness study of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and to explore the roles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnoses and preferences of the acupuncturists in treatment design. Methods: Patients allocated to an acupuncture arm of a study were offered up to ten sessions of acupuncture over 3 months. Acupuncturists followed a flexible treatment protocol that allowed for treatment individualization, use of additional therapies such as moxa, and provision of lifestyle advice. All treatments were recorded in logbooks and analyzed by content analysis. Results: Seven primary and eight secondary TCM patterns were identified among the 113 patients with IBS, and were combined in various ways to produce unique diagnoses for 84% patients. Liver Qi Stagnation and Damp Heat were the most commonly reported patterns. Of the 126 acupuncture points used, a distinct core and supporting group of points was associated with each primary pattern. Each practitioner also utilized a distinct core and supporting group of points that reflected his/her preferences. Use of additional therapies (e.g., moxa) and provision of lifestyle advice (e.g., diet) were generally consistent with a particular practitioner. Conclusions: Data suggest that a patient's TCM diagnosis, the practitioner's preferences, and a patient's individual characteristics beyond his/her diagnosis influence treatment delivery. In particular, TCM diagnoses appear to influence the acupuncture (i.e., point selection) aspect of treatment more than the selection of additional therapies and lifestyle advice. From another perspective, the treatments incorporated pragmatic, individualized, and disease-specific approaches with combinations that produced both treatment commonalities and diversities.


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