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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.
- Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
- 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.
- Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
- Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.
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