Endocarditis has been reported in patients with valvular heart disease who have undergone acupuncture treatment, although most have been associated with the use of semi-permanent needles. This has led reviewers to suggest that acupuncture may not only be contraindicated in such patients but that prophylactic antibiotics should be given.
This study investigated the use of acupuncture treatment in patients with proven valvular heart disease and observed whether endocarditis developed in such patients. All patients in a single-handed GP practice with proven valvular heart disease, including those with prosthetic valves, were identified over a ten-year period. Those who had undergone acupuncture treatment underwent a clinical examination and diagnostic tests, which focused on the signs, symptoms and laboratory criteria for the diagnosis of endocarditis and included a transthoracic echocardiogram. Autopsy findings were reviewed in any patient who died.
Based on these clinical and laboratory data, using the modified Duke’s criteria for the diagnosis of endocarditis, patients were identified as having definite or possible endocarditis, or the diagnosis was rejected.
All patients underwent brief acupuncture with no skin disinfectant and no prophylactic antibiotics were given. Semi-permanent needles were avoided. Thirty-six patients with valvular heart disease underwent a total of 479 acupuncture treatments over a ten-year period. The median number of treatments was 9 (range 1 – 72), with a follow-up after treatment of 5.75 years (range 0.5 – 10 years). Definite endocarditis was not found in any patient, but two patients had possible endocarditis, eventually discounted by both negative blood cultures and echocardiography.
In conclusion, brief acupuncture was safe in this small cohort of valvular heart disease patients and no case of endocarditis was detected over a ten-year period.