Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation and Auricular Electrostimulation
Electrical stimulation of auricular acupuncture points is investigational.
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), also known as cranial electrical stimulation, transcranial electrical stimulation, or electrical stimulation therapy, delivers weak pulses of electrical current to the earlobes, mastoid processes, or scalp with devices such as the Alpha-Stim®. Auricular electrostimulation involves stimulation of acupuncture points on the ear. Devices, including the P-Stim™ and E-pulse, have been developed to provide ambulatory auricular electrical stimulation over a period of several days. CES and Auricular electrostimulation are being evaluated for a variety of conditions, including pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and weight loss.
Interest in CES began in the early 1900s with the theory that weak pulses of electrical current would lead to a calming effect on the central nervous system. The technique was further developed in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe in the 1950s as a treatment for anxiety and depression, and use of CES later spread to Western Europe and the U.S. as a treatment for a variety of psychological and physiological conditions. Presently, the mechanism of action is thought to be the modulation of activity in brain networks by direct action in the hypothalamus, limbic system and/or the reticular activating system. One device used in the U.S. is the Alpha-Stim CES, which provides pulsed, low-intensity current via clip electrodes that attach to the earlobes. Other devices place the electrodes on the eyelids, frontal scalp, mastoid processes, or behind the ears. Treatments may be administered once or twice daily for a period of several days to several weeks.
Other devices have been developed that provide electrical stimulation to auricular acupuncture sites over several days. One device, the P-Stim™, is a single-use miniature electrical stimulator for auricular acupuncture points that is worn behind the ear with a self-adhesive electrode patch. A selection stylus that measures electrical resistance is used to identify 3 auricular acupuncture points. The P-Stim™ device connects to 3 inserted acupuncture needles with caps and wires. The device is pre-programmed to be on for 180 minutes, then off for 180 minutes. The maximum battery life of this single-use device is 96 hours.
A number of devices for CES have received marketing clearance through FDA’s 510(k) process. The Alpha-Stim® CES device (Electromedical Products International) received marketing clearance in 1992 for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and depression. FDA product code: GZI
The P-Stim™ (NeuroScience Therapy Corp) received marketing clearance through FDA’s 510(k) process in 2006. The P-Stim™ is intended for use as an electro-acupuncture device to stimulate appropriate auricular acupuncture points. FDA product code: BWK
The E-pulse received 510(k) marketing clearance in 2009, listing the P-Stim™ as a predicate device. The E-pulse is a microprocessor-controlled battery-powered unit designed to administer auricular point nerve stimulation treatment for pain therapy over a 96-hour period. FDA product code: BWK
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Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation
A number of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews have been published on cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES). In 1995, Klawansky et al. published a meta-analysis of 14 randomized trials of CES versus sham. (1) Most of the studies were small, with fewer than 50 patients. Meta-analysis was conducted for the treatment of 4 different psychological and physiological conditions: anxiety (8 trials), brain dysfunction from drug or alcohol use (2 trials), headache (2 trials), and insomnia (2 trials). Meta-analysis showed CES to be significantly more effective than sham for anxiety and headache. Of the 8 studies included in the meta-analysis for anxiety, the sample size was generally small, the populations studied were diverse, and only 2 of the studies independently showed CES to be better than sham treatment. For headache, there was a high risk of bias for 1 of the studies and a poor quality rating for the second according to a Cochrane review (see following). (2) Meta-analysis did not find CES to be more effective than sham for brain dysfunction or insomnia.
Anxiety and Depression
The largest randomized study on anxiety that was included in the 1995 systematic review was a 1976 report by Passini et al. (3) Sixty psychiatric patients with a variety of diagnoses (e.g., alcohol addiction, unipolar depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorder) and with either anxiety or depression were included. Thirty-minute treatments on 10 successive workdays resulted in significant improvements in both the CES and sham groups on self-ratings of anxiety, depression, and hostility, indicating a large placebo effect. Improvements were not significantly different between the groups but tended to favor the controls rather than the active CES group. In 2014, Barclay and Barclay reported a randomized double-blind, sham controlled trial of the effectiveness of 1 hour daily of CES in patients with anxiety (n=115) and comorbid depression (n=23). (4) Analysis of covariance showed a significant advantage of active CES over sham for both anxiety (p=0.001) and depression (p=0.001) over the 5 weeks of treatment. The mean decrease in the Hamilton rating scale for anxiety was 32.8% for active CES versus 9.1% for sham. The mean decrease in the Hamilton rating scale for depression was 32.9% for active CES and 2.6% for sham.
A 2014 Cochrane review with a literature search through February 2014 found no high quality RCTs of CES versus sham for the treatment of depression. (5)
A 2004 Cochrane review of noninvasive treatments for headaches identified 2 poor quality randomized placebo controlled trials on CES for migraine or tension-type headache. (2) The trials provided limited evidence that CES is superior to placebo in reducing pain intensity from headache.
A 2010 Cochrane review of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques for chronic pain identified 8 randomized trials (5 parallel study designs and 3 cross-over designs with a total of 391 participants). (6) Chronic pain conditions included osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, chronic back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain following spinal cord injury. Meta-analysis of 3 trials (133 participants) where it was possible to extract data, found no difference between active CES and sham stimulation on pain at short-term follow-up, leading to the conclusion that CES may be ineffective for chronic pain. A 2014 update of the Cochrane review identified 11 randomized trials of CES for chronic pain. (7) Meta-analysis of 6 trials (270 participants) found no significant difference between active and sham stimulation, reinforcing the conclusion that CES is not effective for the treatment of chronic pain.
Shill et al. found no benefit of CES with the Nexalin device for motor or psychological symptoms in a crossover study of 23 patients with early Parkinson disease. (8)
In 1997, Pickworth et al. reported that 5 days of CES was ineffective for reducing withdrawal symptoms or facilitating smoking cessation in a double-blind RCT of 101 cigarette smokers who wished to stop smoking. (9)
A number of randomized double-blind sham-controlled trials along with several systematic reviews have been conducted on CES for a variety of conditions. In spite of the number of trials, there is a lack of consistent evidence for improvement of health outcomes.
In a 2007 review, Sator-Katzenschlager and Michalek-Suberer found that studies on the use of the P-Stim in acute pain (e.g., oocyte aspiration and molar tooth extraction) are not consistent. (10) A 2011 randomized trial from Europe tested the efficacy of the P-Stim in 40 female patients undergoing gynecologic surgery. (11) Patients were randomly assigned to receive auricular acupuncture or sham stimulation. Patients in the control group received electrodes without needles and the P-Stim devices were applied without electrical stimulation. The P-Stim device was placed behind the ear at the end of the operation on all patients while they were still under general anesthesia, and the dominant ear was completely covered with identical dressing in both groups to maintain blinding. Postoperatively, patients received 1,000 mg paracetamol every 6 hours, with additional piritramide given on demand. Needles and devices were removed 72 hours postoperatively. A blinded observer found no significant difference between the 2 groups in consumption of piritramide during the first 72 hours postoperatively (acupuncture vs. placebo: 15.3 mg vs. 13.9 mg, respectively) or on visual analog scale (VAS) scores taken at 0, 2, 24, 48, and 72 hours (average of 2.32 vs. 2.62, acupuncture vs. placebo, respectively).
Chronic Low Back Pain
At the time this policy was created, use of the P-Stim had been reported only in European trials. In 2004, Sator-Katzenschlager et al. reported a randomized double-blind controlled study of auricular electro-acupuncture compared with conventional manual auricular acupuncture in 61 patients with chronic low back pain (at least 6 months). (12) All needles were connected to the P-Stim device; in the control group, devices were applied without electrical stimulation. Treatment was performed once weekly for 6 weeks, with needles withdrawn 48 hours after insertion. Patients received questionnaires assessing pain intensity and quality, psychological well-being, activity level, and quality of sleep using VAS. There was a significant improvement in pain at up to 18 week follow-up. Auricular electro-acupuncture resulted in greater improvement in the outcome measures than that of the control group. For example, at 18-week follow-up, VAS pain intensity was less than 5 in the control group and less than 2 in the electro-acupuncture. This study is limited by the small number of participants. In 2003, this group of investigators had reported similar effects in a small randomized study of 21 patients with chronic cervical pain. (13)
The same group of investigators reported a randomized double-blinded study of the effects of the P-Stim on weight loss in 56 obese patients. (14) The auricular acupuncture points for hunger, stomach, and colon were stimulated for 4 days per week over 6 weeks. At the end of treatment, body weight was reduced by 3.73% in the active stimulation group and .70% in the sham group (p<0.001). From the beginning of treatment to 4 weeks after the end of treatment, body weight was reduced by 5.08% in the active stimulation group and .16% in the sham group (p<0.001). Similar changes were observed for body mass index and body fat. Further study by these investigators will include a larger sample size and a longer time of observation.
In another European study from 2008, Bernateck et al. reported the use of the P-Stim device in a RCT of 44 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. (15) The control group received autogenic training, a psychological intervention in which participants learn to relax their limbs, breathing, and heart. Electro-acupuncture (continuous stimulation for 48 hours at home) and lessons in autogenic training were performed once weekly for 6 weeks. In addition, the control patients were encouraged to use an audiotape to practice autogenic training every day. The needles and devices were removed after 48 hours. Seven patients withdrew from the study before beginning the intervention; the 37 remaining patients completed the study through 3 months of follow-up. The primary outcome measures were the mean weekly pain intensity and the disease activity score. At the end of treatment and at 3-month follow-up, a statistically significant improvement was observed in all outcome measures for both groups. There was greater improvement in the electro-acupuncture group than the control group (e.g., VAS pain 2.79 vs. 3.95) during the treatment period. This difference did not persist at the 3-month follow-up. The clinical significance of a 1-point difference in VAS from this small trial is unclear.
Studies evaluating the effect of this technology on acute pain are not consistent, and the small amount of evidence on chronic pain has methodologic limitations. For example, a comparison of auricular electrostimulation with manual acupuncture for chronic low back pain did not include a sham-control group. In another study, auricular electrostimulation was compared with autogenic training and resulted in a small improvement in VAS pain scores of unclear clinical significance. The positive effect of electrostimulation that was reported for weight loss requires confirmation in a larger sample of patients. The evidence available at this time is insufficient to determine the effect of auricular electrostimulation on health outcomes, including acute and chronic pain and weight loss.
Clinical Input Received from Physician Specialty Societies and Academic Medical Centers
While the various Physician Specialty Societies and Academic Medical Centers may collaborate with and make recommendations during this process, through the provision of appropriate reviewers, input received does not represent an endorsement or position statement by the Physician Specialty Societies or Academic Medical Centers, unless otherwise noted.
In response to requests, input on auricular electrostimulation was received through 3 physician specialty societies and 5 academic medical centers while this policy was under review in 2011. There was consensus that auricular electro-stimulation is investigational.
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), also known as cranial electrical stimulation, transcranial electrical stimulation, or electrical stimulation therapy, delivers weak pulses of electrical current to the earlobes, mastoid processes, or scalp with devices such as the Alpha-Stim®. Auricular electrostimulation involves the stimulation of acupuncture points on the ear. Devices, including the P-Stim™ and E-pulse, have been developed to provide ambulatory auricular electrical stimulation over a period of several days. CES and auricular electrostimulation are being evaluated for a variety of conditions, including pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and weight loss. The literature on CES consists of a number of randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews, which provide little support for the efficacy of this treatment approach. The literature on auricular electrostimulation is limited in quantity and the available trials are not of high quality. Additional randomized studies with a larger number of subjects are needed to evaluate the efficacy of this treatment approach. Therefore, CES and auricular electrostimulation are considered investigational.
Practice Guidelines and Position Statements
No guidelines or statements were identified.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation and auricular electrostimulation are not preventive services.
Medicare National Coverage
There is no national coverage determination (NCD). In the absence of an NCD, coverage decisions are left to the discretion of local Medicare carriers.
Acupuncture, 1 or more needles; with electrical stimulation, initial 15 minutes of personal one-on-one contact with the patient
; with electrical stimulation, each additional 15 minutes of personal one-on-one contact with the patient, with re-insertion of needle(s) (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure).
Electrical stimulation of auricular acupuncture points; each 15 minutes of personal one-on-one contact with the patient
New policy; add to Therapy section. Policy created with literature search through April 2011; clinical input reviewed; considered investigational.
Replace policy. Policy updated with literature review through June 2012, references 1-7 added; cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) added as investigational. “Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)” added to policy title.
Update Related Policies. 2.01.50 has been replaced with 2.01.526.
Update Related Policies. Change title to policy 2.01.526.
Replace policy. Policy updated with literature review through July 10, 2013; policy statement unchanged.
Annual Review. Policy updated with literature review through July 16, 2014. References 4-5, 7, and 14 added; others renumbered. Policy statement unchanged.
Disclaimer: This medical policy is a guide in evaluating the medical necessity of a particular service or treatment. The Company adopts policies after careful review of published peer-reviewed scientific literature, national guidelines and local standards of practice. Since medical technology is constantly changing, the Company reserves the right to review and update policies as appropriate. Member contracts differ in their benefits. Always consult the member benefit booklet or contact a member service representative to determine coverage for a specific medical service or supply. CPT codes, descriptions and materials are copyrighted by the American Medical Association (AMA).