Archive for Saturday, August 21, 1999

BATTLING MORNING SICKNESS

August 21, 1999

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A new medical device is helping pregnant women handle morning sickness without the use of drugs.

A simple nonharmful shock can help pregnant women cope with morning sickness.

The joy of impending motherhood can quickly be marred by a rebellious stomach. Experts estimate nausea and vomiting affect between 50 percent and 90 percent of pregnant women. Doctors prescribe saltine crackers, smaller meals and no spicy foods to try to conquer it. Some women are forced to turn to anti-nausea medication, but many are hesitant to take any drugs they don't have to while pregnant.

"Some people are even leery of Tylenol," said Jan Morey, a nurse practitioner at Lawrence OB/GYN Specialists. Anti-nausea medication also can cause drowsiness, making it hard for a woman to function.

So they suffer.

Or they did until lately. About three months ago, a new product called ReliefBand started making its way into doctors' offices. Based on an acupuncture point, the band is placed on the inside of a woman's wrist and sends small electrical pulses. In theory, that electrical pulse goes up the median nerve into the brain, blocking the erratic signals sent by a nauseated stomach.

In theory.

"I don't think anybody really knows how it works," said Dr. Carolyn Johnson with Lawrence OB/GYN Specialists. The important thing is that it does work, at least for most women with mild to medium nausea.

"I have had a couple of patients that have loved it," Johnson said.

There have been a few it didn't work for, she said -- mostly women with serious nausea. But most women jump at the chance to try something other than medication for their queasy stomach. Johnson said she was happy to have a non-invasive, drug-free alternative.

The ReliefBand is also approved for use by pregnant women by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Anti-nausea drugs used are safe according to anecdotal data and animal tests, Johnson said, but there is no way to test specifically for any effects.

"There really is nothing, besides this, that is FDA-approved," she said.

The device is fairly easy to use.

"People seem to get the hang of it pretty quick," Johnson said.

The patients swab the inside of their wrist with alcohol and place some "conductivity gel" on a quarter-sized patch of skin. The device, which resembles a watch, is placed over the gel and moved until the nerve is being stimulated, then is strapped in place.

"Typically, you should feel a pins and needles sensations up through your hand," Morey said.

The tingling sensation fades into the background as the band is worn, she said, taking the nausea with it. At least that's the hope.

Women are beginning to ask about ReliefBand when they run into stomach trouble, Morey said. While Johnson said the cost can be comparable to anti-nausea medication, hospital officials said women should check with their insurance company to ensure the device is covered.

The device runs around $75 for a disposable band with a 144-hour battery. Patients can buy a reusable band for more money.

"Presumably you could use it though multiple pregnancies," Johnson said.

It can also be used for other kinds of nausea. The Kansas University Medical Center's cancer center is using the band to help patients in chemotherapy, and an over-the-counter model is available for those who suffer from motion sickness.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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