Health Problem: Nausea is a subjective phenomenon of an unpleasant sensation in the epigastrium and back of the throat that may or may not progress to vomiting. Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of the contents of the stomach, duodenum, or jejunum through the mouth. Three causes of nausea and vomiting that acupuncture has been investigated for the treatment of include pregnancy, cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and surgery.

Technology Description: The technique of acupuncture involves percutaneous insertion of very fine needles to a depth of approximately 10 to 15 millimeters at prescribed acupoints. In some cases, low-voltage current is applied to the needles; this is referred to as electroacupuncture.

Controversy: Concerns regarding the opioid epidemic have fueled considerable interest in nonpharmacological strategies, including acupuncture, for pain management in recent years. Numerous federal regulatory agencies have advised or mandated that nonpharmacologic options for pain be offered by healthcare systems and providers. Acupuncture is controversial in the United States because of lack of clear mechanisms for efficacy, inconsistent findings in studies in the peer-reviewed literature, and heterogeneity in techniques and treatment administration.

Key Questions:

For patients who are experiencing or likely to experience nausea and/or vomiting related to pregnancy, cancer treatment, or surgery:

  • What is the evidence regarding the efficacy of acupuncture compared with sham, no treatment, and active treatment?
  • What is the evidence regarding the safety of acupuncture?
  • Have definitive patient selection criteria been identified?

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