To treat severe chronic constipation, both electroacupuncture (EA) therapy and transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TES) are safe and effective, but there is a lack of comparison between the 2 treatments. We sought to compare the therapeutic effect of EA relative to TES for the treatment of severe chronic constipation.
We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial. Seventy participants with severe chronic constipation were randomly allocated to the EA group or TES group. The acupoints in both groups are bilateral Tianshu (stomach 25), Fujie (spleen 14), and Shangjuxu (stomach 37). Each participant received 24 sessions of EA or TES during the treatment period of 8 weeks. Outcome measures were the proportion of participants with an increase from baseline of 1 or more complete spontaneous bowel movements (CSBMs) at week 8 and changes in the number of CSBMs and spontaneous bowel movements, stool character, difficulty in defecation, Patient Assessment of Constipation Quality of Life (PAC-QOL); the proportion of participants using rescue medicine and adverse reactions. Participants were followed for 24 weeks after the treatment.
Sixty of the 70 eligible participants completed the whole trial, 32 participants (91.43%) in the EA group and 28 participants (80.00%) in the TES group. There were 10 participants (14.29%) who dropped out during the whole study, 3 (8.57%) in the EA group, and 7 (20.00%) in the TES group. At weeks 20 and 32, 22 of 32 (68.75%) and 19 of 32 (59.38%) in the EA group met the clinical outcome of an increase of 1 or more CSBMs from the baseline, compared with 10 of 28 (35.71%) and 9 of 28 (32.14%) in the TES group (P=0.019 and 0.042, respectively). At the same time, the proportions of participants having 3 or more CSBMs per week were 18 of 32 (56.25%) and 15 of 32 (46.88%) in the EA group, respectively, compared with 6 of 28 (21.43%) and 5 of 28 (17.86%) in the TES group (P=0.008 and 0.027, respectively). Statistical differences between the 2 groups were maintained in the change from baseline in CSBMs during the follow-up period (P=0.007 and 0.013, at week 20 and 32, respectively) and in the change from baseline in spontaneous bowel movements at week 20 (P=0.007). Statistical significance was also observed in the decrease of PAC-QOL score after 8 weeks of treatment (mean±SD, EA: 19.06±14.41 vs. TES: 12.48±9.13, P=0.031). No significant difference was noted between the 2 groups in defecation difficulty, stool character, and the use of rescue medicine.
For the treatment of severe chronic constipation, EA performed better than TES in long-term follow-up and improving the quality of life. TES could be a better choice for patients with severe chronic constipation who are afraid of acupuncture because it is noninvasive. Well-designed and more rigorous clinical trials with larger sample sizes are needed.