DOCTORS have called for patients to be made aware of the risks of acupuncture after a case where the alternative therapy caused a potentially fatal lung condition.


The case involved a 66-year-old man who went to an emergency department in a Scottish hospital suffering from pains in his chest.

He was diagnosed with a pneumothorax - commonly known as a collapsed lung - which can be fatal if left untreated. The patient recovered after treatment.

Doctors reporting the case in the Scottish Medical Journal (SMJ), say that while such potentially life-threatening complications of acupuncture are rare, the potential dangers are not being conveyed to patients.

They have raised concerns that current advice leaflets on the therapy do not detail the serious side-effects which can occur and are calling for the introduction of improved information to outline the risks and advise when to seek medical help.

Co-author of the paper Dr Robbie Brogan, said: "I would just like patients to be told about the risk.

"As doctors, we have to do lots of invasive procedures - and one of the things you have to be aware of is that if you don't tell a patient about a potential complication, no matter how rare it is, they can't really make a proper decision about receiving that treatment.

"For something as serious as a pneumothorax - even although the risks are small - patients should be made aware of the risks before they accept the treatment.

"It is an invasive procedure, as you are sticking needles into somebody's back."

According to the report in the SMJ, the patient had been attending Chinese acupuncture sessions to help treat back pain caused by arthritis and had never received any advice about potential complications.

After his third session, he began suffering stabbing pains in his chest and from breathlessness.

His daughter urged him to go to A&E as he had undergone a heart procedure the previous week.

A chest X-ray revealed he had a large pneumothorax - which occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and the chest wall, pushing on the lung and making it collapse.

The heart procedure was ruled out as a possible cause and medics concluded the condition had been caused by the Chinese acupuncture session, when needles which were inserted in the patient's back between the ribs and chest muscles, close to the border of the lung.

Brogan said it was only a matter of luck that the patient had decided to seek medical help, as he had not been made aware of any warning signs.

"This patient only came to the emergency department because his daughter insisted," he said. "He could have just forgotten about it, gone to sleep and his outcome might not have been so good.

"I had certainly never heard of it and the consultants in the department had never heard of it - so we were all shocked.

"For something that potentially doesn't have much in the way of benefit, it seems unfair that patients aren't being told about these potentially life-threatening complications."

Nick Pahl, chief executive officer of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), said two separate surveys had concluded the risk of a serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than one in 10,000.

He said: "There are very few side effects from acupuncture when practised by a fully qualified practitioner of traditional acupuncture.

"To further reduce the risk of any potential side effects, patients should look out for a registered practitioner from the British Acupuncture Council.

"The BAcC stamp of approval means that the practitioner is an accredited acupuncturist providing the highest standard of professional care to patients, with degree level training and strict codes of safe practice, which are in place to protect the patient from these sorts of incidents."

He added: "It is a requirement of the Scottish Licensing regulations that all licensed practitioners should give a patient a leaflet with the risks of treatment clearly outlined, and also basic aftercare advice.

"The BAcC produced proforma leaflets which it has circulated to all of its members in Scotland which it expects them to hand out in line with the law."

Read the full article in the Scottish Medical Journal here.