Benefits and Risks

One of the most striking aspects of acupuncture is the almost complete absence of adverse effects and complications from its use. Most patients find that the treatments are relaxing and cause minimal discomfort.

People with pacemakers should avoid electrical stimulation unless approved by their cardiologist. Women in early pregnancy and hemophiliacs should be treated with caution.

The AFCI recommends that only sterile disposable (single use) needles be used, preventing any risk of infection. In particular, there is no possibility of transmission of HIV or hepatitis viruses when sterile disposable needles are used.

Adverse events:
According to one study by Ernst et al. (2003) 33 of over 3000 acupuncture treatments, the following are possible effects of acupuncture needle insertion in general:

 A small amount of bleeding may appear at the needle site and is more likely to occur in those patients taking aspirin. Bleeding will usually stop within minutes after removing the needle. (reported in 2.9% of treatments);
 A small bruise (usually if any bleeding happens) may appear but will usually disappear within a few days. (reported in 2.2% of treatments);
 Fatigue has been observed to occur follow acupuncture treatments (in 1.4% of treatments);
 A feeling of dizziness has been reported by few patients (1.0% of treatments) but is usually a brief episode, stopping before the end of treatment;
 Pain while needle is in place (in 0.9% of treatments) or after needle is removed (in 0.4% of treatments) has been reported but is generally a short term, low-level pain which does not usually persist beyond 5 minutes;
 Feelings of aching, heat, heaviness are often expected to occur during acupuncture treatment. These are descriptions of the “deQi effect” reported in Chinese medicine and are usually felt briefly during the treatment session. A prolonged (5 mins to several hours) feeling of deQi has been reported in a small portion of patients (0.5% of treatments) but is not a bad result;
 Feelings of tingling (in 0.5% of treatments);
 Generalized sweating (in 0.3% of treatments);
 Nausea has been reported rarely (0.2% of treatments) and again tends to stop before treatment ends;(NOTE: if pain, dizziness or nausea continues beyond two minutes in the session, all needles would be removed and the session stopped); and Fainting is another rare event (0.1% of treatments).

A summary of significant adverse events associated with acupuncture reported from prospective studies between 1994-2004 is presented in a review by White (2004) 34. There were a total of 715 adverse events reported from either a primary source (the clinician) or a secondary source (another author). Trauma and infection were the most common serious adverse events. There were 90 primary and 137 secondary reports of trauma (most common pneumothorax representing over 80% of cases); and 204 primary and 91 secondary reports of infection (most common hepatitis B representing over 60% of cases). The evidence from the 12 prospective studies which surveyed over one million treatments estimates the risk of a serious adverse event to be 0.05 per 10 000 treatments or 0.55 per 10 000 individual patients. Therefore, the risk of a serious adverse event is considered very low.



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