Acupuncture to Treat the Symptoms of Patients in a Palliative Care Setting

Explore (NY). 2015 Sep-Oct;11(5):357-62. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2015.06.001. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


Introduction: Patients enrolled in hospice and palliative care programs experience a vast array of symptoms requiring the expertise of a multidisciplinary team to address. Acupuncture can be an effective addition to a hospice team whose goal is maximum comfort and quality of life (QOL). The objective of this project was to examine the effectiveness of acupuncture to relieve symptoms commonly observed in patients in a hospice program.

Methods: All over 26 patients participated in the acupuncture trial, receiving a course of weekly treatments that ranged from 1 to 14 weeks. The average number of treatments was five. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) was used to assess the severity of pain, tiredness, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, appetite, well-being, and dyspnea. A two-tailed, paired t test was applied to the data to compare symptom scores pre- versus post-acupuncture treatment.

Settings/participants: Patients enrolled in All Care Hospice's home care program were given the option to receive acupuncture to supplement usual care offered by the hospice team. Treatment was provided by licensed acupuncturists in the patient's place of residence.

Results: Seven out of nine symptoms were significantly (P < .001) improved with acupuncture, the exceptions being drowsiness and appetite. Although the ESAS scale demonstrated a reduction in symptom severity post-treatment for both drowsiness and appetite, this reduction was not found to be significant.

Conclusion: Acupuncture was found to be effective for the reduction and relief of symptoms that commonly affect patient QOL. Acupuncture effectively reduced symptoms of pain, tiredness, nausea, depression, anxiety, and shortness of breath, and enhanced feelings of well-being. More research is required to assess the long-term benefits and symptom reduction of acupuncture in a palliative care setting.

Keywords: acupuncture; anxiety; hospice; pain; palliative; well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Appetite
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / therapy
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / therapy
  • Hospices*
  • Humans
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Nausea / therapy
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management
  • Palliative Care*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Severity of Illness Index