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Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (ACIBS) Trial

The aim of this study is to establish rigorous evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture for IBS.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common bowel condition seen by primary care physicians and gastroenterologists. It is a gastrointestinal disorder that is believed to affect approximately 15% – 20% of the adult population. Characterised by an array of symptoms including abdominal distension, abdominal pain, and bowel dysfunction (loose bowels, constipation or a fluctuation between these two extremes), it is an ongoing challenge to effectively treat patients with IBS in primary care. Many patients have already been self-referring for acupuncture to treat their IBS, but the lack of good quality trials means that current evidence for acupuncture as a treatment option is currently unavailable.

In 2008, the University of York received a £250,000 grant from the National Institute of Health Research, to conduct a full-scale trial with the aim of establishing rigorous evidence on the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of acupuncture for IBS. The trial also explored the patient experience, including the acceptability and safety of acupuncture and explored the potential influence of patient preference, belief and expectation on patient outcome.

Conducted by the Complementary Medicine Evaluation Group, and in conjunction with the York Trials Unit, the trial recruited 233 patients in the York and Harrogate areas in 2008 and 2009. Patients with IBS were recruited from GP practices to receive either a course of acupuncture and usual GP care, or to continue with usual GP care alone. The patients were followed up for a period of 12 months. We found patient benefits at three months that were sustained over the 12 month period. We have also published in parallel the cost effectiveness analysis, see below.

Health Services Policy Research in the Department of Health Sciences