Nausea, vomiting, and dry heaving are unfortunately common symtptoms in early pregnancy. Often called "morning sickness," these symptoms can actually happen anytime during the day and sometimes all day. They can make mothers miserable and interfere with daily activities. In some cases, they can lead to dehydration and weight loss. Some medicines may help, but many moms-to-be look for complementary and alternative therapies to avoid medicines that may effect the fetus. Acupressure and acupuncture are some alternative approaches that are often used to try to relieve nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy. These approaches use pressure or acupuncture needles on specific areas of the body.
Researchers from Cochrane database examined several past studies that investigated acupuncture or acupressure for nausea, vomiting, and retching in women up to 20 weeks gestation. The study, published in Cochrane Databases, found little evidence that suggests these treatments are beneficial for pregnant women.
The systematic review included 27 previous randomized trials with a total of 4,041 women who were less than 21 weeks pregnant. Some trials compared benefits of acupressure or acupuncture to placebo, vitamin B6, or conventional antinausea medicines. Acupressure points that were used included the P6 point on the inside of the wrist and outer ear pressure points. One study also reviewed acustimulation, which is acupuncture with electrical stimulation.
Benefits of acupressure or acupuncture were inconsistent and did not appear to be long lasting. Acustimulation was associated with improvement over time when compared to placebo in one trial. There was limited evidence on the benefits of any of the compared treatments as well. There were problems with the individual studies and statistical problems when the studies were combined that made more definitive conclusions difficult. Few studies reported on adverse events for the fetus and the reviewers felt this lack of information prevented them from making conclusions about fetal safety.
A systematic review gathers information from several smaller studies, which sometimes have conflicting results. The larger number of patients increases the reliability of outcomes. However, certain limitations in the small trials that make up this review and the statistical design in the combination of trials decreases the reliability of the results. In fact, the authors of this study concluded that further, more complete research is needed to better understand treatment options for pregnant women with nausea and vomiting.
Discomforts of pregnancy vary greatly and different treatments may be better suited to different women. Although this review did not show a clear benefit from acupressure or acupuncture, you may still want to consider it as an option. If you are having nausea and vomiting early in pregnancy, discuss the risks and benefits of different treatment options with your doctor.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Matthews A, Dowswell T, Haas DM, Doyle M, O'Mathúna DP. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 9.
Last reviewed January 2011 by Brian P. Randall, MD