BACKGROUND: Acupuncture is used for clinical pain relief but has not been evaluated under clinical anaesthesia. This study was designed to compare movement in response to surgical incision in anaesthetized patients subjected to electro-acupuncture (EA) or sham procedures. Our hypothesis was that EA stimulation would reduce the requirements for anaesthetic gas. METHODS: Forty-six healthy women, scheduled for laparoscopic sterilization at a Swedish county hospital, were randomized to have either the electro-acupuncture (n = 23) or sham (n = 23) procedure between the induction of general anaesthesia and the start of surgery. The minimal alveolar concentration (MAC) of sevoflurane required to prevent neck or major limb movements in response to surgical incision was determined in each group of patients. RESULTS: The MAC for sevoflurane was found to be higher in the group given acupuncture than in the control group (2.1 +/- 0.3% vs. 1.8 +/- 0.4%; P = 0.008). CONCLUSION: Electro-acupuncture given during general anaesthesia with sevoflurane failed to reduce but instead increased the clinical need for anaesthetic gas, possibly by reducing the anaesthetic effect of sevoflurane and/or by facilitating nociceptive transmission and/or reflex activity.
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