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Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy


4 Star

Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy

Our Review Summary

This story reports on the results of a randomized, controlled trial comparing a specific type of acupuncture to "sham" acupuncture (acupuncture using different pressure points), and massage. The study found that the group of women who received customized acupuncture sessions experienced more improvements in depressive symptoms than those in the other treatment groups. However, the study was small (about 50 participants per group) and the results have not been replicated.

This story adequately describes the current study and its potential limitations. It establishes the novelty of the treatment, quantifies the benefits and compares acupuncture to existing treatments such as psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. It quotes an independent expert who provides valuable commentary on the importance of the new findings.

The story could have been improved by discussing the availability of acupuncture (in particular the specific regimen as used in this study), and any potential harms of acupuncture. Most importantly, the story should have discussed the costs of the 12-session regimen. Insurance coverage for acupuncture varies widely and the expense of this treatment could represent a significant barrier to women.


Why This Matters

Depression during pregnancy may be difficult to recognize because many of the normal changes (such as change in appetite and sleep and lower energy levels) during pregnancy are similar to the symptoms of depression. However, untreated and undiagnosed depression could increase the risk of malnutrition, sleep disturbance, and non-compliance with pre-natal care. Fortunately there are many safe and effective treatments for depression, even during pregnancy. Both psychotherapy and antidepressant medication are highly effective. According to a new study to be published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, acupuncture may be another safe option.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story makes no mention of costs or insurance coverage for acupuncture in the context of partum depression. Costs could be a significant barrier to getting the treatment for many women. The story points out that it is important that women are fully treated into remission, yet it makes no estimate of the cost of the full 12 sessions as described in the study.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story only reported benefits in relative terms, but those percentages were juxtaposed to the actual numbers of women assigned to the three study groups – so it’s possible for readers to do the math.  Nonetheless, why make them do the math?  Why not just give the absolute numbers of how many in each group responded?

One thing we did like is that the story explained that the study defined a "positive response" from treatment as an improvement of more than 50% in depressive symptoms. It would be interesting to know if the women in the study would self report this amount of improvement as a significant improvement in how they were feeling.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The study reported some cases of pain at needle insertion sites and bleeding, but the story didn’t mention this.  Even with a treatment that is generally very safe, women should be aware of any risks.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The story does a good job of describing the current study and pointing out its limitations, most importantly, that it was a small study and the first to evaluate this specific form of acupuncture.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of partum depression.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The story quotes one independent expert who provides valuable commentary on the importance of the new findings.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story appropriately discusses antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, two very important and helpful treatments for partum depression.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story stresses that the type of pressure points used were specifically designed for this study, yet the story makes no mention of whether or not this method is available to any practitioners and if so, where to find them.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story is clear that while acupuncture itself is not a new idea, this particular pattern of pressure points developed for this study is indeed new.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


It does not appear that the story relied on a new release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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