Acupuncture holds promise for pregnant women with depression
1 December 2004
Psychiatry Matters

Acupuncture may be an option for the treatment of depression during pregnancy, say researchers who found that women who responded to the therapy also experienced less depression in the weeks after giving birth.

Recognizing the need for antidepressant treatments for pregnant women that pose little risk to the patient and her child, Rachel Manber (Stanford University, California, USA) and colleagues carried out a pilot study to determine the potential benefits of acupuncture for such women.

The researchers randomly assigned 61 pregnant women to one of three treatments delivered over 8 weeks during the course of the pregnancy. These included an active acupuncture that specifically addressed depressive symptoms (n=20), a control active acupuncture that did not specifically address depression (n=21), and massage (n=20), which controlled for attention, physical contact, relaxation, and respite from daily stress.

In all, 68.8% of women responded to active acupuncture, defined as a Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) score of below 14 and a 50% or greater reduction in score from baseline, compared with 47.4% of those receiving control acupuncture, and 31.6% of women given massage.

Manber and co-workers note in the Journal of Affective Disorders that the response rate for active acupuncture is comparable with that seen in clinical trials of standard treatments for depression, at between 50% and 70%.

The average reduction in HRSD score following 8 weeks of treatment was from 21.5 to 9.6 for active acupuncture. This compared with final scores of 10.3 and 12.6, for those receiving massage and control acupuncture, respectively.

The beneficial effect of acupuncture also extended into the postpartum period, the researchers report. Responders continued their treatment for 10 weeks postpartum, and this revealed that the likelihood of remission was significantly greater for women receiving acupuncture than for those in the other two groups.

Manber et al. say that their study "indicated that acupuncture holds promise as a safe, effective, and acceptable treatment of depression during pregnancy, and that a larger clinical trial is warranted."

J Affect Disord 2004; 83: 89-95