Blog Post

Is Acupuncture Harmless?

Treatment by acupuncture. The doctor uses needles for treatment of the patient.GM asks: “My doctor says acupuncture is harmless. Is this true?”

Not exactly. There are numerous risks with acupuncture ranging from soreness and bruising to infections and punctured lungs and even death.

According to Dr. Edzard Ernst and scientist Simon Singh in their book, Trick or Treatment, there are certainly risks involved in acupuncture.

Some of the more minor issues involve slight pain, bleeding or bruising at the sight of the insertion. People who get woozy at the sight of a needle are also known to . . . well . . . get woozy and feel dizzy, faint or vomit.

Among the more serious side effects is that of infection. There have been documented cases of patients contracting diseases such as hepatitis. The journal Hepatology documented 35 out of 366 patients who contracted hepatitis B from an American acupuncture clinic. The problem was caused by re-using needles that were not properly sterilized.

Another more serious side-effect can occur if a needle happens to puncture a major nerve or organ.

For instance, in this article, Ernst said that there have been 86 deaths associated with acupuncture between 1965 and 2009 with most of them being due to lung collapse. This happens when the needle punctures membranes around the lung.

In another case, an Austrian patient died after an acupuncturist inserted a needle into her chest which managed to pierce her heart and kill her.

Even though acupuncturists like to say their craft is risk-free, this is not true. Although the number of injuries compared to those treated could hardly be called a “huge” risk, it is there nonetheless. And when we consider that acupuncture has not been found to be effective for much of anything in laboratory testing, we can only wonder why anyone would take any risk at all in order to have one of these treatments.

Doctors recommend that people with bleeding disorders or are taking blood thinners such as warfarin or Coumadin could suffer a higher rate of complications. In addition, any kind of electrical acupuncture could interfere with the operation of a pacemaker. Pregnant women are also advised to be wary of the procedure because some types of acupuncture are believed to stimulate labor which could result in a premature delivery.