Research: NORHEIM, Institute of Com

Listed in Issue 31


NORHEIM, Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromso Norway reviews (29 references) the adverse effects of acupuncture as recorded in papers published in journals on the Medline database during the period 1981-94.



There were a total of 125 papers which were detected by the keywords acupuncture adverse effects. The author excluded articles without case reports, leaving 78 reports which were reported in the present article.


Over 14 years, there were a total of 194 patients reported with adverse effects of acupuncture, with the most common mechanical organ injury attributed to pneumothorax, and hepatitis the main infection. Acupuncture treatment is claimed to be responsible in the death of 3 patients, one from bilateral pneumothorax, a second from complications from endocarditis and the third from severe asthma while under acupuncture treatment. The majority of adverse effects from acupuncture seemed to be due to insufficient basic medical knowledge, low hygienic standards and inadequate acupuncture education.


This paper confirms the adverse effects of acupuncture under certain circumstances. However, serious adverse effects are few and acupuncture can generally be considered a safe treatment .


Norheim AJ. Adverse effects of acupuncture: a study of the literature for the years 1981-1994. J Altern Complement Med 2(2): 291-7. Summer 1996.


In an ideal world, one would hope to find no reports of adverse effects from any given treatment. However, we all know that we dont live in an ideal world, and that if we consider any one given procedure, say giving injections, or dealing with ingrown toenails, or lancing boils, or even taking antibiotics, we have all heard of horror stories pertaining to reactions, infections or allergic drug reactions to standard medical procedures. These statistics, often representing hundreds or thousands of individuals, are regularly published in medical handbooks and occasionally in popular books or magazine articles regarding iatrogenic illness and they make sobering reading. Seen in this context, the fact that over a 14-year period the author was only able to find 125 papers representing 193 patients from all over the world reported to have experience adverse effects in Medline is quite astonishingly clear proof that acupuncture is indeed safe, provided that the practitioner is properly trained in basic medical knowledge, acupuncture and observe high standards of safety and hygiene.

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