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Iraqi doctors use acupuncture

4th May 2010

Doctors in war-torn Baghdad are turning to traditional Chinese medicine as a substitute for a drug called oxytocin during caesarean deliveries.


Iraqi doctors are facing an acute shortage of drugs, and turned to acupuncture to treat mothers giving birth by caesarean section.

Doctors at a Baghdad hospital carried out a small study of 200 such cases, and concluded that acupuncture could be a useful addition to standard Western medical techniques even in hospitals not struggling through years of conflict.

In acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into certain points in the body to adjust the flow of "qi", or life energy, which is central to the ancient Chinese practice.

They needed a replacement for oxytocin, a naturally occuring hormone produced during childbirth, which is often given to mothers just after a caesarean to help the uterus shrink and to limit the risk of bleeding.

Doctors used the technique at the Red Crescent Hospital for Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Baghdad between 2004 and 2006 for fear of running out of oxytocin.

Lead author Lazgeen Zcherky said the patients who received acupuncture appeared mostly not to need oxytocin at all.

Acupuncture was a useful substitute and enabled the hospital to hold on to its drug supplies.

Acupuncture is one of the most widely practiced strands of alternative medicine, and has won widespread acceptance in the west, mostly for the treatment of pain. It is also used to treat obesity, constipation and arthritis.

Traditional Chinese doctors use the technique alongside herbal medicine and massage techniques to treat the full range of human pathology.

There is a small but growing body of scientific literature on its safety and effectiveness, often involving Western-trained scientists based in Hong Kong, where Chinese medicine is widely used alongside Western medicine.

The treatment studied by the doctors in Baghdad involved inserting six acupuncture needles as soon as possible after delivery into the mother's toes and ankles, with manual stimulation for five to 10 minutes.

They used acupuncture points traditionally related to bleeding from the womb, prolapse of the womb, difficult labor, uterine contractions, and retention of the placenta.

The study was published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, a British Medical Journal title.

Womb contraction decreased enough in 45% of the women for oxytocin not to be needed at all, and enough in 30% of the women for them to need two units of the drug.

Normally, doctors will administer between 10 and 20 units of oxytocin, so the Baghdad women were managing on around 18% of the normal dose.

Only four women who received acupuncture needed more than four units of oxytocin.

However, Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Britain's Peninsula Medical School said previous clinical trials did not support the use of acupuncture in childbirth.

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