Women with fibromyalgia (FM) who were treated by electroacupuncture for 10 weeks experienced less pain, improved physical function, and better health in general following the treatment.
The study, “Impact of Electroacupuncture Treatment on Quality of Life and Heart Rate Variability in Fibromyalgia Patients,” was performed by Livia G. Díaz-Toral and colleagues from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico, and published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
Earlier studies have shown that electroacupuncture can reduce clinical symptoms of fibromyalgia, both in laboratory animals and in patients. The researchers enrolled 20 women in the study, and the participants received two electroacupuncture sessions per week for 10 weeks, administered by a specialist.
The team used two questionnaires to score functional and psychological outcomes, as well as physical function, mental health, and health-related quality of life.
After treatment conclusion, patients reported substantially lower pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, anxiety, and depression. Patients also reported improvements in physical function, physical role, body pain, general health, and vitality scores.
Fibromyalgia patients are reported to have alterations in their autonomic nervous system signaling, characterized by increased sympathetic activity.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems trigger two important physiological responses. These could be simplified as the stress-linked “fight-or-flight response,” governed by the sympathetic nervous system, and the homeostasis-inclined “rest-and-digest” response, governed by the parasympathetic system. An alteration in these two systems toward a higher sympathetic activation may lead to the increased stress sensitivity and high heart rate seen in fibromyalgia.
Team members investigated the morning heart rate and its variability before and after treatment. They noticed that electroacupuncture elicited an increase in low-frequency heart rate, a decrease in high-frequency, and an increase in low-frequency/high-frequency ratio, indicating a rise in parasympathetic tone.
The study also reported that before treatment, better scores on the questionnaire measuring functional and psychological outcomes corresponded to a higher parasympathetic activation. Moreover, some study correlations suggested that improvements in social function and mental health could be related to an increase in parasympathetic activity.
The authors argue that the morning adrenergic effect observed in the patients could explain the improvements in the physical and mental function observed. They also believe that the parasympathetic effect caused by electroacupuncture in the study could be related to the positive changes in health-related quality of life, especially the improvement in mood, depression, and feelings of being sick
More studies are, however, needed to determine the mechanisms behind improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms triggered by electroacupuncture. Also, long-term effects of electroacupuncture on heart rate variability and its consequences to overall cardiovascular risk need to be assessed.