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Survey of Adverse Events Following Acupuncture (SAFA): a prospective study of 32,000 consultations
  1. Adrian White, senior lecturer1,
  2. Simon Hayhoe, medical acupuncturist2,
  3. Anna Hart, principal lecturer3,
  4. Edzard Ernst, professor4,
  5. Volunteers from BMAS and AACP
  1. 1
    University of Exeter
  2. 2
    Colchester
  3. 3
    University of Central, Lancashire
  4. 4
    University of Exeter
  1. a.r.white{at}ex.ac.uk

Summary

Acupuncture is increasingly used, so it is important to establish whether its benefits outweigh its risks. Numerous case reports of adverse events show that acupuncture is not free of risk, but accurate data from prospective investigations is scarce. A prospective survey was undertaken using intensive event monitoring. Forms were developed for reporting minor events each month and significant events as they occurred. The sample size was calculated to identify any adverse events that occurred more frequently than once in 10,000 consultations. Acupuncturists were recruited from two professional organisations in the UK. Seventy-eight acupuncturists, all doctors or physiotherapists, reported a total of 2178 events occurring in 31,822 consultations, an incidence of 684 per 10,000 consultations. The most common minor adverse events were bleeding, needling pain, and aggravation of symptoms; aggravation was followed by resolution of symptoms in 70% of cases. There were 43 significant minor adverse events reported, a rate of 14 per 10,000, of which 13 (30%) interfered with daily activities. One patient suffered a seizure (probably reflex anoxic) during acupuncture, but no adverse event was classified as serious. Avoidable events included forgotten patients, needles left in patients, cellulitis and moxa burns. In conclusion, the incidence of adverse events following acupuncture performed by doctors and physiotherapists can be classified as minimal; some avoidable events do occur. Acupuncture seems, in skilled hands, one of the safer forms of medical intervention.

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