Research indicates that acupuncture can be effective in managing chronic pain, with the exception of ischemic pain, which occurs when the heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen.
The study examined the potential of acupuncture in relieving chest pain associated with stable angina, a condition affecting millions of Americans and characterized by predictable chest discomfort during physical exertion or under emotional stress.
Extensive research has affirmed acupuncture’s efficacy in addressing a range of chronic pain conditions. However, its impact on ischemic pain, such as that experienced in stable angina due to insufficient oxygen supply to the heart, remains relatively unexplored.
Leading the two-site study are principal investigators Judith Schlaeger, an associate professor in the College of Nursing, and Holli DeVon, a professor emeritus in the College of Nursing, who also holds the Audrienne Endowed Chair in Research at UCLA. Dr. Joan Briller, a cardiologist and clinical medicine professor at the College of Medicine, serves as a co-investigator and subject matter expert.
A previous pilot study conducted by the team demonstrated that acupuncture effectively reduced pain and enhanced the quality of life for participants.
Chest pain associated with stable angina often results from arterial blockages caused by cholesterol buildup, impeding blood flow to the heart. However, many stable angina patients experience this pain due to other causes, such as dysfunction in the tiny arteries responsible for delivering blood to tissues, limiting oxygen supply.
Conventional therapies aimed at reducing cholesterol-induced blockages often prove ineffective for these patients, leaving them to contend with debilitating bouts of chest pain.
Dr. Briller remarked, “The concept of employing acupuncture is innovative, and its success would be remarkable.” Chest pain from angina significantly diminishes a person’s quality of life, leading to the avoidance of physical activities and potentially stress-inducing situations.
DeVon emphasized, “Chronic pain, regardless of its origin, can be disabling and exhausting.” She expressed her enthusiasm about offering an alternative to patients who have found only partial relief from medications.
Schlaeger highlighted the significant disparity in access to acupuncture in the United States, driven by the concentration of acupuncturists in more affluent areas and the associated costs of treatment.
The study will primarily enroll participants from medically underserved communities who will be introduced to acupuncture for the first time, a continuation of the pilot study’s approach.
Schlaeger noted, “Participants in the pilot study were delighted to have access to an intervention they had heard of but had previously been out of reach.”