Acupuncture after IVF 'could boost pregnancy'

24 September 2008

Acupuncture could boost the chances of a woman becoming pregnant after IVF by more than half.

The effect is so significant that just 10 women needed to combine the treatments for one to conceive who would not otherwise have done so, a study showed.

It is not clear how acupuncture affects fertility. However, IVF is extremely stressful and it could be that the relaxation involved in the therapy helps, experts said.

The findings come from a review of seven scientific trials, involving a total of 1,366 women of all ages, published in the British Medical Journal today.

The study looked at pregnancy rates among women having acupuncture around the time that the embryo was transferred to the womb during IVF.

It compared the results with those given a fake acupuncture treatment and women who had no extra therapy.

Those who had real acupuncture increased their chances of becoming pregnant by 65 per cent compared with the sham treatment or nothing.

Eric Manheimer, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore, who was the lead author of the study, said that the effect was smaller in trials where the pregnancy rate was already high.

However, it still means acupuncture may be a cost-effective additional therapy in IVF because it is so cheap compared with repeated cycles of fertility treatment.

One in seven couples will experience difficulty conceiving. The average cost of one cycle of IVF in Britain is about £4,000, including drugs.

Around 32,000 patients a year have IVF with about 11,000 babies born annually as a result, accounting for one per cent of births.

A previous study suggested that women having acupuncture were actually less likely to get pregnant.

However, this was based on patients who sought out the therapy on their own rather than being randomly assigned as part of a trial, meaning they were probably resorting to it because their chances of conceiving were already poor.

Prof Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, said: "On the face of it, these results sound fantastic. I would, however, be very cautious as much of the observed effect could be due to a placebo response.

"IVF may not seem to be 'placebo-prone' but it probably is. If women expect it to be helpful, they are more relaxed which, in turn, would affect pregnancy rates."

The research paper said if the results were largely down to a placebo effect then there would have been increased pregnancy rates among the women who thought they were receiving real acupuncture, but were actually receiving a sham therapy, where the needles were placed at random. However, this was not the case.

Source: Rebecca Smith, The Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2008

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