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Acupuncture: Not As Harmless As You Thought

October 19, 2010 1 comment

Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicine treatments today. Photo: GETTY

A recent review article published in the The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine has found reports of 86 deaths in the last 45 years relating to acupuncture treatment.

Incorrectly placing needles and poor sterilization techniques were the main culprits. These poor practices led to punctured hearts and lungs, infections, liver and artery damage and haemorrhages.

From the Guardian,

The most common cause of death was a condition called pneumothorax, where air finds its way between the membranes that separate the lungs from the chest wall and causes the lungs to collapse.

The article was written by Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. When describing his research he said that “these fatalities are avoidable” but are “the tip of a larger iceberg.”

Now, every medical treatment has some form of risk associated with it. What is important is the risk/benefit analysis of the treatment. If you could potentially save a life, the benefit is high which could make a risky procedure worth it.

The problem with acupuncture is that it has consistently been shown to offer little more than a placebo effect. Therefore, if it has no benefit than even a very small amount of risk is unacceptable.

When discussing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments I always get the question, “Well, whats the harm?”

Studies like these and websites like Whatstheharm.net are showing the growing amount of evidence that some CAM treatments are not as safe as we once thought.