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Patient reports of adverse events associated with acupuncture treatment: a prospective national survey

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Publication details

JournalQuality & Safety in Health Care
DatePublished - Oct 2004
Issue number5
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)349-355
Original languageEnglish


Objective: The primary aim was to establish from acupuncture patients the type and frequency of adverse events they experienced and attributed to their treatment. Secondary aims included the measurement of patient reported adverse consequences arising from advice received about conventional/prescribed medication or from delayed conventional diagnosis and treatment.

Methods: Postal survey of prospectively identified acupuncture patients. One in three members of the British Acupuncture Council (n = 638) invited consecutive patients to participate in the survey. Participating patients gave baseline data and consented to direct follow up by the researchers at 3 months. A structured questionnaire was used to collect data on perceived adverse events.

Results: 9408 patients gave baseline information and consent and 6348 (67%) completed 3 month questionnaires. Responders were not dissimilar to non-responders for all known characteristics. 682 patients reported at least one adverse event over 3 months, a rate of 107 per 1000 patients (95% CI 100 to 115). Three patients reported a serious adverse event. The most common events reported were severe tiredness and exhaustion, pain at the site of needling, and headache. Patients receiving acupuncture treatment that was not funded by the NHS and patients not in contact with a GP or hospital specialist were less likely to report adverse events ( odds ratios 0.59 and 0.66, respectively). 199 (3%) of responding patients reported receiving advice about conventional/prescribed medication, six of whom reported adverse consequences after taking the advice. Two patients reported delayed conventional treatment.

Conclusion: Patients report a range of adverse events but these do not prevent most patients seeking further acupuncture. This large scale survey supports existing evidence that acupuncture is a relatively safe intervention when practised by regulated practitioners.

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