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Acupuncture to Ease the Side Effects of AIDS Drugs

As drug cocktails continue to be used as a course of treatment for those who have HIV and AIDS, more patients are suffering through debilitating side effects that are caused by these medications. Often patients complain of a wide range of symptoms including, night sweats, nausea, vomiting, depression, insomnia, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, muscle pains, and sinus congestion. However, acupuncture is now being used to alleviate some symptoms brought on by the powerful drugs. These treatments have been shown to boost the immune system and help fight the side effects brought on by HIV and AIDS.

Redge Norton of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation uses acupuncture, massage and nutritional therapy to combat the side effects of the powerful drugs. "It really helped to get my appetite back to normal," said Norton. "And I feel more like myself again."

Acupuncture is commonly thought of as an alternative form of therapy, although its history as a treatment for physical ailments predates the era of laboratory-produced drugs by several thousand years. Practitioners of this ancient tradition choose from a variety of treatment modalities when developing an individual treatment regimen for a patient. In addition to acupuncture, these modalities include therapeutic massage, stress reduction techniques, and the application of heat and herbs that is known as moxabustion.

A significant number of primary care providers have come to recognize that such therapies should not be thought of as alternatives to Western medicine, but rather as complementary therapies - therapies used in conjunction with, not instead of, conventional drug treatments.

Acupuncture may help relieve bloating, cramping, and appetite loss among HIV-infected people taking drug cocktails to keep the virus in check. In 2005 a study was presented at a meeting of the International AIDS Society. This study included 50 HIV-infected men and women taking HIV medications. About half had been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.

At the start of the study, all of the participants complained that the drugs caused at least two digestive side effects: nearly 80% had gas, more than 40% had bloating, 50% had cramps, nearly 50% had appetite loss, and 10% had actually lost weight

The participants then received six weeks of acupuncture. For three weeks the acupuncture included four sites commonly associated with improvement of digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and bowel upset. For another three weeks they received acupuncture at four sites nearby sites not noted for affecting digestive conditions.

The patients were unaware of which type of acupuncture they were receiving at any given time.

But after just three weeks of acupuncture treatments, only 60% had two or more digestive symptoms. Both sets of acupuncture points improved digestive symptoms. However, acupuncture at the sites targeting digestive symptoms was more effective in controlling loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, and bloating.

In addition, among the 20% of people who said they weren't taking their AIDS medications as directed at the start of the study, half reported improvement after acupuncture treatment. This points out, states researcher Elizabeth Sommers, research director of the AIDS Care Project/Pathways to Wellness in Boston, since they feel better after acupuncture, people are more likely to take their drugs properly, resulting in better disease control.

In this study, none of the participants complained of side effects from the acupuncture.

Pain, a frequent symptom in people with HIV disease, appears to be particularly responsive to the effects of acupuncture. While the exact mechanisms by which acupuncture relieves pain remain obscure, there is clinical evidence to show that it does work. Specifically, acupuncture has become a popular treatment for people with peripheral neuropathy, which is a common complaint of people with HIV. Neuropathy, or nerve damage, manifests as pain, tingling, or numbness in the extremities, usually the feet. After acupuncture treatments patients report less tingling and more flexibility in the joints.

Among the many attractive features of acupuncture therapy are its safety and its relatively affordable cost. Convenience is also a consideration: it is not necessary to plan one's life around acupuncture treatments, which is an additional benefit to individuals who must plan their lives around their HIV and AIDS drug therapy schedules.

Among the many attractive features of acupuncture therapy are its safety and its relatively affordable cost. Convenience is also a consideration: it is not necessary to plan one's life around acupuncture treatments, which is an additional benefit to individuals who must plan their lives around their HIV and AIDS drug therapy schedules.

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