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The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reports that almost 1.3% of American adults suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease). This is a big increased from 1999 when just 0.9% (or 2 million) American adults were affected by the condition. Disease flare-ups are a real issue, and new treatments are sought to keep relapses at bay. A recent study looked at the potential to use a ganglion block as a therapy that treats not only pain from ulcerative colitis, but also the disease itself.

Stellate ganglion block Ulcerative ColitisWhat is stellate ganglion block?

Stellate ganglion block is a technique whereby local anesthetic is injected into the stellate ganglion, which controls “sympathetic” activity. The sympathetic nervous system is involved in things like the fight or flight response (ie running away from danger). By injecting a local anesthetic doctors can stop this area from sending nerve signals to the body.  This process usually happens in the following order:

  • The nurse will place an IV line and give the patient a mild sedative to relax them
  • The doctor will then number the area with a local anesthetic to stop pain
  • An antiseptic is used to clean the area
  • The doctor will then guide a needle using ultrasound through the skin and into the stellate ganglion where an anesthetic like lidocaine is injected.

The technique has been used to treat pain conditions as well as PTSD in soldiers. Now it could be used to treat an entirely different type of disease known as ulcerative colitis.

Does it work for Ulcerative Colitis?

A recent study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at how effective and safe stellate ganglion blocks were in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. 120 patients were randomly selected and either assigned to the control group (which had 30 members) or the experimental group (that had 90 members). The control group was given standard treatment for UC. That is an oral drug known as sulfasalazine (that keeps flare-ups and relapses at bay). The experimental group was given stellate ganglion blocks instead (once a day for 30 days).

The researchers found that patients in the control group didn’t get much pain relief from their treatment. However, those with a stellate block reported statistically significantly less pain than the control group. They also found that levels of IL-8 (a proinflammatory molecule that causes inflammation and thus disease and pain in UC) were lower after 10 days in the stellate ganglion block group when compared to the control group. Finally, they found that adverse events were higher in the control group. They define adverse events as side effects from the treatments (like stomach discomfort, liver or kidney dysfunction, headache, rashes, neck pain, vomiting etc).

These results suggest that stellate ganglion blocks are a powerful tool for the treatment of chronic diseases like ulcerative colitis. The block seems to help with that actual disease process whilst also reducing pain. If you suffer from a chronic condition like ulcerative colitis talk to a specialist about treatment.