The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Acupuncture does not usually cause serious side effects. There have been reports of dizziness and rapid, involuntary eye movements after acupuncture. Needles must be sterile in order to avoid disease transmission or infections (most practitioners now use disposable needles). Acupuncture should only be performed by qualified healthcare professionals. A woman who tried to perform acupuncture on herself experienced a spinal cord injury after inserting a sewing needle into her spinal cord.
Rare side effects include collapsed lung (called pneumothorox), blood clots (which may block blood vessels), ruptured artery (called a pseudoaneurysm), bleeding, abscesses, cerebrospinal fluid fistula, and diabetic ketoacidosis. A case of Bell's palsy has occurred after acupuncture. Symptoms went away two weeks after therapy was stopped, but it is unclear if acupuncture caused the condition.
Acupuncture should be avoided in the following conditions: valvular heart disease, known bleeding disorders, use of anticoagulants (blood thinners), pregnancy (may induce unwanted labor and possible miscarriage), systemic or local infection, pain of unknown medical origin, medical condition of unknown origin such as dermatologic lesions, and neurologic disorders (e.g., severe polyneuropathy or paraplegia, or following certain forms of neurosurgery) as well as on areas that have received radiation therapy.
Caution is advised in patients with pulmonary disease, elderly or medically compromised patients, diabetics (due to poor circulation), and in patients with a history of seizures. Wrist-ankle acupuncture may improve metabolism of blood sugar and blood-lipids, and a healthcare provider should monitor these levels in diabetic patients as medication adjustments may be necessary.
Electroacupuncture should be avoided in people with arrhythmia or pacemakers.
This information is based on a professional level monograph edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): William Collinge, PhD, MPH (Collinge & Associates); Ethan Basch, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center); Steven Bent, MD, MPH (University of California, San Francisco); Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Cynthia Dacey, PharmD (Northeastern University); Levi Garraway, MD, PhD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Penelope Greene, PhD (Harvard School of Public Health); Dana A. Hackman, BS (Northeastern University); Paul Hammerness, MD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Jeffrey Peppercorn, MD, MPH (Harvard Medical School); Lisa Scully (PharmD, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy); David Sollars, MAc, LicAc (New England School of Acupuncture); Kristopher Swinney, PharmD (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences-Worcester); Isabell Syelsky, PharmD (Northeastern University); Brian Szczechowski, PharmD (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences-Worcester); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Natasha Tiffany, MD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Catherine Ulbricht PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Shannon Welch, PharmD (Northeastern University); Jen Woods, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).