Effects of electroacupuncture on stress-related symptoms in medical students: a randomised controlled pilot study

Acupunct Med. 2012 Jun;30(2):89-95. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2011-010082. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


Objective: To assess the effects of electroacupuncture on stress-related symptoms-sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and burnout-in medical students, and provide data to inform a power analysis to determinate numbers for future trials.

Methods: Twenty-five students were randomly assigned to an electroacupuncture (n=12) group or control group (n=13) that did not receive treatment. Electroacupuncture was applied at a continuous frequency 2 Hz for 20 min once a week for 8 weeks at sites on the extremities, face, ear and scalp. The outcomes of the students treated with electroacupuncture were compared with those of the control group at the endpoint, controlling the influence of baseline scores. The instruments used were self-administered questionnaires that comprised the validated Portuguese version of the mini-sleep questionnaire (MSQ), the Pittsburgh sleep quality index (PSQI), the Epworth sleepiness scale (ESS), the Beck depression inventory (BDI), the Beck anxiety inventory, the Maslach burnout inventory-student survey (MBI-SS), and World Health Organization quality of life assessment - abbreviated version (WHOQOL-bref).

Results: The medical students treated with electroacupuncture showed a significant decrease compared with the control group for MSQ scores (p=0.04) and PSQI (p=0.006). After treatment, 75% students in the electroacupuncture group presented a good sleep quality, compared with 23.1% of the students in the control group. No significant difference on daytime sleepiness was shown by the ESS. The electroacupuncture group showed significant improvement on depressive symptoms (BDI), the emotional exhaustion and cynicism dimensions of burnout (MBI-SS) and physical health (WHOQOL-bref).

Conclusions: Electroacupuncture was associated with a significant reduction of stress-related symptoms, but because of the study design the authors cannot say what proportion of the reduction was due to needle stimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Electroacupuncture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Young Adult