One in five patients has symptoms which are undiagnosed by medicine, and the cost of treating them is twice that as of a diagnosed patient.
A team from the University of Exeter examined 80 patients, and investigated the benefit of acupuncture being added to their usual care.
After the first trial of its type, researchers say those who underwent acupuncture showed ‘a significant and sustained benefit’ and add that the treatment could be safely added to the list of possible therapies.
Of the 80 patients, nearly 60 per cent reported musculoskeletal problems, and in the three months prior to the experiment had accounted for treatment including 44 hospital visits, 52 hospital clinic visits, 106 outpatient clinic visits and 75 visits to non NHS workers.
Half were treated with acupuncture for 26 weeks with the other acting as a control group, reports the British Journal of General Practice.
Those treated with acupuncture had a ‘significantly improved’ overall wellbeing, reporting further benefits such as new self-awareness about what caused stress in their lives and better diet and exercise.
At 26 weeks the control group also underwent acupuncture – and reported the same benefits.
Comments from patients included “the energy is the main thing I have noticed. You know, yeah, it’s marvellous!” and
“Where I was going out and cutting my grass, now I’m going out and cutting my neighbour’s after because he’s elderly”;
Dr Charlotte Paterson, who managed the trial, said: “Our research indicates that the addition of up to 12 five-element acupuncture consultations to the usual care experienced by the patients in the trial was feasible and acceptable and resulted in improved overall well-being that was sustained for up to a year.
“This is the first trial to investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment to those with unexplained symptoms, and the next development will be to carry out a cost-effectiveness study with a longer follow-up period.
“While further studies are required, this particular study suggests that GPs may recommend a series of five-element acupuncture consultations to patients with unexplained symptoms as a safe and potentially effective intervention.”
She added: “Such intervention could not only result in potential resource savings for the NHS, but would also improve the quality of life for a group of patients for whom traditional biomedicine has little in the way of effective diagnosis and treatment.”