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Acupuncture appears promising for the treatment of depression during pregnancy

An estimated 3 to 11 percent of pregnant women suffer from major depression at some time during their pregnancy. More recent studies show that this problem may be even more common during the last 2 months of pregnancy. Yet antidepressant therapy is not recommended for pregnant women because antidepressants may harm the fetus. Acupuncture may provide pregnant women with a safe alternative, suggests a new pilot study.

Pregnant women with depression who received acupuncture tailored for depressive symptoms got more relief than women who received nonspecific acupuncture or massage. Furthermore, women who responded to any treatment reported significantly less depression at 10 weeks postpartum, according to the study which was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09988).

Rachel Manber, Ph.D., of Stanford University, and her colleagues randomly assigned 61 pregnant women with nonpsychotic major depressive disorder to one of three treatments: active acupuncture that specifically addressed depression symptoms (SPEC), a valid control acupuncture that did not specifically address depression symptoms (NSPEC), and massage. Acute phase treatments lasted 8 weeks and included 16 20-25-minute sessions. Responders (50 percent or greater reduction in depression symptoms from baseline) continued treatment biweekly until delivery and weekly for 8 weeks after delivery. Neither acupuncturists nor patients knew which treatment was being tested.

Overall, 69 percent of the women responded to the acupuncture specific for depression, a rate comparable to the 50 to 70 percent response rates in clinical trials of standard depression treatments. Response rates were significantly lower for massage (32 percent) and control acupuncture (47 percent).

Also, the reduction in depression symptom scores following 8 weeks of specific acupuncture (from 21.5 to 9.6) was similar to that observed following 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressants (from 20.3 to 14.8) or cognitive therapy (from 20.6 to 15.7) in another study of a mixed (male-female) sample of depressed patients.

See "Acupuncture: A promising treatment for depression during pregnancy," by Dr. Manber, Rosa N. Schnyer, L.Ac., John J.B. Allen, Ph.D., and others, in the Journal of Affective Disorders 83, pp. 89-95, 2004.

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