Every operation brought the same result for Geraldine Cato - nausea and vomiting.
"I'm allergic to everything," the Graniteville woman said - pain medication, antibiotics, all kinds of medication. But after gallbladder surgery at University Hospital in December, she got some relief from a shock to her wrist.
She was among the first patients in Augusta to get the ReliefBand, which looks like a wristwatch and provides a small jolt at the acupressure point P6 on the inside of the wrist. Pressure there somehow calms the stomach. The band was cleared for prescription use in motion sickness, pregnancy nausea and chemotherapy nausea in 1997 and now can be sold over the counter for motion sickness, said Sharon Snider, spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration.
It was cleared for postoperative nausea in December 1999, said Dave Swenson, vice president of marketing and clinical research for the manufacturer, Woodside Biomedical of Carlsbad, Calif.
Studies have found that about half of the 4 million women who get pregnant every year suffer from nausea and vomiting, Mr. Swenson said. Postoperative nausea and vomiting also affect between 10 and 30 percent of patients, said University anesthesiologist Alan S. Black. There are about 16 million surgeries a year.
"The magnitude of this problem, post-operative nausea, if you look at it on a macro-level, it's a tremendous cost to society, it's several billion dollars a year," Dr. Black said.
Nausea is the most common complaint patients have after an operation, said University anesthesiologist George Petrides. Though there are many drugs to try to control it, they come with side effects, including grogginess, that might keep a patient in the hospital longer, Dr. Black said. They also can add to the expense, Dr. Petrides said.
Acupressure at the wrist has a mixed record in reducing nausea in dozens of studies on both adults and children for a variety of conditions. However, two studies in Belfast, Northern Ireland, showed that transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical stimulation on the same spot proved effective in reducing nausea after chemotherapy and during pregnancy. Studies supplied by the company also show significant relief after surgery.
"I would say there's a huge placebo effect" in which patients get better simply because they believe the device is helping them, Dr. Black said. "(But) the studies they have done show an effect that goes beyond placebo."
Although the other effect is still not proved, doctors say the device sends a signal into the central nervous system that affects serotonin levels in the nausea and vomiting control center of the brain, Mr. Swenson said.
The device is placed on the patient's wrist and sends intermittent shocks from two 3-volt batteries into the median nerve on the wrist.
The shock is not painful, Mrs. Cato said.
"You know how your fingers go to sleep, and when they start waking back up it kind of tingles?" Mrs. Cato said. "It feels like that."
University got the devices about six weeks ago and right away saw results, said post anesthesia care unit nurse Marianne McCuller.
"The first one we put it on, she went from green to nice and pink within about five minutes," Mrs. McCuller said. "We have found it to be quite effective, especially in our outpatients. They're able to get out sooner, they're much more comfortable."
The company has heard stories of patients with AIDS and diabetes who were helped by the device and is interested in branching out into those areas, Mr. Swenson said, though it has not been approved for those uses and the company does not encourage it.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.