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Hypertension and Acupuncture

Acupuncture, either alone or combined with Chinese herbs, may help treat high blood pressure. Research is a bit mixed. Because acupuncture is very low-risk, usually pleasant, and may offer many other health benefits, it may be worth experimenting with.

Effect of Acupuncture on Hypertension

The exact effects of acupuncture on blood pressure are not clear in modern scientific terms. For one thing, acupuncture may help treat hypertension by inducing a state of deep relaxation. Acupuncture is believed to effect muscles, nerves, and body chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. In general traditional terms, acupuncture seeks to restore the normal circulation of energy within specific channels, called meridians, and improve overall health by promoting the balance of energy in the whole body.

Read more details about Acupuncture.

Research Evidence on Acupuncture

A substantial study (192 participants) failed to find acupuncture helpful for high blood pressure.100 However, another study, this one enrolling 160 people, did report benefit,105,111 but it was small and also suffered from problems in its use of statistics. In a review of 11 randomized controlled trials on the subject, researchers determined that acupuncture’s ability to lower blood pressure has not yet been proved or disproved by scientific research.140

How to Use Acupuncture

For more information, see the section, "What to Expect During an Acupuncture Treatment," in the acupuncture article.

Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment

Acupuncture may be practiced by a variety of professionals, and licensure laws in the United States vary by state. Look for a licensed acupuncturist ("L.Ac."). Other health professionals such as naturopaths, chiropractors and physicians might also use acupuncture as part of their practice.

For more information, see "How to Choose a Qualified Acupuncturist" in the acupuncture article.

Safety Issues

Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. 1,2 The most commonly reported problems include short-term pain from needle insertion, tiredness, and minor bleeding. There is one report of infection caused by acupuncture given to a person with diabetes. 3 Some acupuncture points lie over the lungs and insertion to excessive depth could conceivably cause a pneumothorax (punctured lung). Because acupuncturists are trained to avoid this complication, it is a rare occurrence.

A recent report from China contained an example of another complication caused by excessively deep needling. 4 A 44-year-old man was needled on the back of the neck at a commonly used acupuncture point just below the bony protuberance at the base of the skull. However, the acupuncturist inserted the needle too deeply and punctured a blood vessel in the skull. The client developed a severe headache with nausea and vomiting; a CAT scan showed bleeding in the brain, and a spinal tap found a small amount of blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. The severe headache, along with neck stiffness, continued for 28 days. The man was treated with standard pain medication, and the condition resolved itself without any permanent effects.

Infection due to the use of unclean needles has been reported in the past, but the modern practice of using disposable sterile needles appears to have eliminated this risk.

References

  1. Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
  2. MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 323(7311):486-7.
  3. Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
  4. Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.
  1. Macklin EA, Wayne PM, Kalish LA, et al. Stop hypertension with the acupuncture research program (SHARP). Results of a randomized, controlled clinical trial. Hypertension. 2006 Oct 2. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Yin C, Seo B, Park HJ, et al. Acupuncture, a promising adjunctive therapy for essential hypertension: a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Neurol Res. 2007;29(suppl):98-103.
  3. Flachskampf FA, Gallasch J, Gefeller O, et al. Randomized trial of acupuncture to lower blood pressure. Circulation. 2007 Jun 4. [Epub ahead of print]
  4. Lee H, Kim SY, Park J, et al. Acupuncture for lowering blood pressure: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Hypertens. 2009;22:122-128.

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