Science and Tech


Acupuncture may enhance post-surgery outcomes in cardiac patients

Acupuncture, a potentially effective treatment for heart rhythm disorders, pain, and nausea, is now being studied for use after cardiac surgery.
Posted at 9:39 PM, Nov 26, 2023

The future of post-op heart surgery—getting that patient from the hospital bed back home safely and quickly—could soon start to involve traditional eastern medicine like acupuncture.

Inside Northwestern's Osher Center for Integrative Health, acupuncturist Ania Grimone places needles inside one of her regular patients.

“Chinese medicine has been around for 3,500 years. So we have a lot of clinical experience of how to deal with heart issues,” said Acupuncture Therapist Ania Grimone.

Grimone is part of the medical team that's recently shared a first-of-its kind study that found acupuncture may help patients heal from open heart surgery. Over two million people around the world have open heart surgery each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In the clinical trial, 100 volunteer patients who underwent open-heart valve surgery were split into a control and an acupuncture group.

The "ACU-Heart Half" received an average of four acupuncture sessions, each lasting about 45 minutes.

Acupuncturists placed needles at precise points, including the inner arm, the wrist, and the ear.

Patients reported less nausea, pain, and anxiety as typical symptoms post-heart surgery.

They also spent less time in the intensive care unit.

Among the most exciting findings, patients had fewer instances of a common problem—a rapid heart rhythm or arrhythmia—post-surgery.

"Postoperative a-fib is an arrhythmia that can occur in about a third of patients after open heart surgery that can increase their length of stay. It can increase complications, including stroke,” said lead researcher and cardiac pyschologist Dr. Kim Feingold.

In the acupuncture group, the rates of post-op a-fib were nearly 60% lower, and the need for a-fib medications when patients left the hospital was lower too.

Fiengold tells Scripps News that the next step is a larger study with more patients to see if acupuncture after open heart surgery could shorten the total length of hospital stays.

But the potential it's shown to help patients so far is warming her heart.

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