Regular Acupuncture Seen to Ease Anxiety in Parkinson’s Patients

Trial in 64 people finds drop in levels, better life quality with 8 weeks of treatment

Vanda Pinto, PhD avatar

by Vanda Pinto, PhD |

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People with Parkinson’s disease who underwent acupuncture for eight weeks had significantly lower levels of anxiety at a follow-up visit two months later than those who received a sham procedure, a clinical trial from China reported.

Trial findings also suggested that acupuncture may be an effective way to improve patients’ emotional well-being, overall motor function, and quality of life.

The study, “Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Anxiety Among Patients With Parkinson Disease,” was published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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Anxiety is a common nonmotor symptom of Parkinson’s disease, and is associated with difficulties in concentration, feelings of worry, muscle tension, and more severe tremors.

Approximately 31% of patients with Parkinson’s show symptoms of anxiety, the researchers reported. Yet, treatment options to specifically deal with anxiety in those with Parkinson’s are lacking, and available anti-anxiety medications appear to have limited efficacy.

Significant drop in anxiety levels seen two months after treatment

Some studies report that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), also called psychotherapy, can help to treat anxiety in this patient population. But its costliness can limit its use, they added, while acupuncture, despite limited data, has shown promise in treating the disease’s neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Researchers at Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine conducted a clinical trial to provide confirmatory evidence.

“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of an acupuncture treatment regimen targeted for anxiety in patients with [Parkinson’s],” they wrote.

Individuals were randomized to receive acupuncture or a sham acupuncture procedure for 30 minutes a day, three times a week for eight weeks. Patients continued taking their usual medications during this period.

To evaluate the degree of anxiety, researchers used the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A score), consisting of 14 items, each defined by a series of symptoms. Higher scores indicate higher levels of anxiety, with a total possible score of 56.

A total of 64 patients — 30 women and 34 men — with a mean age of almost 62 completed the study.

Immediately after the eight-week treatment, both groups saw a similar reduction in their anxiety levels. However, at a follow-up two months later, patients in the acupuncture group had a significantly lower HAM-A score compared who those patients given sham acupuncture (10.97 vs. 18.56).

Blood levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, stress hormones that can reflect anxiety levels, were also determined before and after treatment. The increase in ACTH levels in the sham group after the treatment period was higher than that of the acupuncture group. No differences were found in terms of cortisol levels between the two groups.

“It may be preliminarily confirmed that acupuncture can reduce the level of ACTH in serum, a finding that is in line with previous results, [where] the authors have proved that acupuncture can alleviate increased stress hormone levels and mitigate anxiety,” the researchers wrote.

To help reflect participants’ mental health, the team used the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale part I (UPDRS I) and the 39-item Parkinson Disease Questionnaire emotional well-being (PDQ-39 EW) scores. At the end of follow-up, patients who underwent acupuncture had significantly lower (better) scores than those who received a sham procedure.

Total UPDRS and PDQ-39 scores, used to evaluate patients’ overall condition and life quality, showed the same trend, possibly because “anxiety symptoms leads to reduction of [Parkinson’s] motor symptoms,” the researchers wrote.

Four mild, and no serious, side effects were reported, including two cases of “slight hematoma” or swelling due to minor bleeding around the needle site, the team noted.

“It can be preliminarily concluded that although there is a certain placebo effect in the short term, acupuncture is clinically effective on anxiety in patients,” the scientists wrote.

“This study’s results suggest that acupuncture with clinical monitoring may alleviate anxiety of patients with Parkinson disease,” they concluded.