Acupuncture is safe in the hands of a skilled practitioner


LONDON (Reuters Health) – Acupuncture is associated with no serious adverse events and few minor events when performed by skilled practitioners, according to the findings of two studies published in the September 1st issue of the British Medical Journal.

Dr. Hugh MacPherson, from the Foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine in York, and colleagues in the UK, performed a prospective postal audit of acupuncture procedures performed during a 4-week period in 2000. The study group included 574 professional acupuncturists who were members of the British Acupuncture Council.

The study group performed 34,407 procedures during the study period. No serious adverse events were reported, but 43 significant minor events did occur. Severe nausea and fainting were the most common significant minor events. Three events–failure of needle removal in two patients and a moxibustion burn in one patient–were classified as avoidable events caused by practitioner error.

Dr. Adrian White, from the University of Exeter in the UK, and colleagues performed a similar study with 78 physicians and physiotherapists who performed 31,822 acupuncture treatments between June 1998 and February 2000.

Once again, no serious adverse events occurred, but the acupuncturists did report 43 significant minor events, the authors state. Fainting, lost or forgotten needles, and exacerbation of symptoms were the most common significant minor events.

In a related editorial, Dr. Charles Vincent, from University College London, comments that "while the risks of acupuncture cannot be discounted, it certainly seems, in skilled hands, one of the safer forms of medical intervention."

Dr. Vincent notes, however, that looking only at the risks of acupuncture gives a limited perspective. "The balance of risk and benefit is the key for patients and for those regulating or funding health care." For many conditions, he adds, the efficacy of acupuncture remains to be established.

BMJ 2001;323:467-468,485-487.

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