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Ask an expert - body - chest - heart

18 questions

Q: I've read that acupuncture raises blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure. Does this always happen and if so, after treatment, does the blood pressure go back to normal?

A: We have looked carefully through all of the research databases and checked for anecdotal accounts on the web, but apart from people who have experienced a raised blood pressure as a nervous response to having treatment itself, there is no evidence to suggest that acupuncture would raise blood pressure in someone with a normal blood pressure. Clearly if someone has low blood pressure, treatment might have the effect of normalising it, but the primary effect of acupuncture on blood pressure is to lower it. This is a well attested outcome, and we have have seen thousands of patients over the years who have hypertension as a primary or secondary problem, many of whom have seen considerable improvements after treatment.

That is not to say that it cannot happen, and if you have come across some research which we have missed we would be very grateful for the reference. Things do change, and surprising results do emerge, but something as important as this would generally bubble to the surface quite quickly.

Our own fact sheet on hypertension is not as informative as some others we produce, and the evidence is not to the standard where we would be making specific claims for the benefits to be derived from treatment. Most of the studies, however, fail on methodological grounds, but all report a lowering of blood pressure with treatment.

A:  We have produced a factsheet on hypertension

 http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/acupuncture-and-hypertension.html

which we have to confess we found a little lukewarm. However, we were delighted to find that there have been a number of new studies published since the factsheet was written, two of which 

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20232615

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724695

make much more encouraging noises. However, the most recent systematic review

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26207806

concludes that acupuncture treatment is probably more useful as an adjunct to the use of conventional medication, and that, surprise surprise, more research needs to be done with larger studies. Easier said than done in the West where very little research is funded by mainstream bodies. However, one day....

 From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of clearly defined patterns which generate hypertension and where there are well-established protocols for lowering blood pressure, usually described from the external signs - the ancient Chinese did not have sphygmomanometers. When we come across new patients with these kinds of symptoms patterns we are usually confident of being able to offer some help. However, we always work as closely as we can with their doctors, whether directly or indirectly, to ensure that any reduction in medication is managed carefully. We have seen enthusiastic patients stop taking their meds in their desire to use a more natural method of B control and watched their BPs go through the roof. This is not what we want to see; the risk is too great.

 As far as snoring is concerned, there is very little research about snoring per se. There is quite a bit about obstructive sleep apnea, and we suspect that if your GP is aware of your BP problems and the snoring that investigations have been done to assess whether the snoring is part of the sleep apnea and contributing in part to the higher BP. Otherwise we have to be honest and say that when we take on patients with a problem like snoring, we tend to do so with the caveat that we will use our skills to balance things as well as we can from a Chinese medicine perspective and see what effect this has. However, we tend to set a tight limit on how many sessions we will do as an experiment, and we always look for a decent measurable outcome so that it is clear whether the treatment is working or not. This can be a problem; the sufferer is usually blissfully ignorant of the effect they are having.


A:  As far as we are aware there are no contraindications for the use of acupuncture, either traditional or auricular, with patients who have cardiomyopathy. In fact, if you undertake internet searches you will find a number of papers, most written in Chinese and published in China, which suggest that acupuncture treatment can be used to good effect in the treatment of some aspects of cardiomyopathy. The studies we found tend to use auricular acupuncture.

The normal safety standards which apply to the use of auricular acupuncture should be perfectly adequate for the protection of the patient with this condition, and the only slight concern we have raised in our members' Guide to Safe Practice is the use of retained needles when a patient has a history of heart valve problems. The section reads:

Patients who have damaged heart valves (eg after rheumatic fever) or artificial valves are at a higher risk of developing endocarditis. Retained needles, a category which includes ear needles, dermal needles and press studs which can be left in place for days, are contraindicated for these patients as they can become infected and cause endocarditis.

This is a very different kind of condition, so unless there is a secondary problem beyond the cardiomyopathy there is no reason not to proceed. 

We did find, however, one study (reference 18) referred to in another article

http://www.itmonline.org/arts/pc6.htm

which suggested that in one case there had been unwanted changes as a consequence of treating specific points, so if you have any concerns about the patient based on his or her presentation you could always, with their consent, approach their GP to ensure that it is OK to treat. This is the advice which we invariably give to BAcC members if they are not sure.




Q:  I have symptoms of arrhythmia.I do have an ICD to keep my heart in check in case of a runaway tachycardia episode.I take mexiletine and sotalol to prevent that from happening......The drugs themselves are enough to kill me....Would acupuncture be a viable alternative to all these medications,and to better my overall health? I am more than ready for a change! (Sick and tired of being sick and tired) I am only 61 yrs old with a lot of living yet to do.I'm in good health otherwise.Just can't do the things I used to do......frustrating!!!

A:  We have to say that acupuncture is not viable as an alternative to your current medications.

This is a problem which we confront quite often with medications, and especially those prescribed for asthma. The medications are prescribed as a preventative, and if someone's condition is stable then it is extremely unlikely that a GP will consider stopping or reducing the dose. This is not a surprise. There is evidence to suggest that if long term medications for asthma are removed there is a slightly increased risk of a serious or fatal attack, and faced with this possibility for any preventive medicine it is likely to mean a lifetime regime. Better than the alternative, as they say.

However, we do treat many people with lifetime medication regimes and there is no doubt in our minds that acupuncture can sometimes make the side effects of the medication less unpleasant, and may also start to address the underlying problem for which someone is taking the meds. There are obviously no trials to validate this statement - they'd never get ethical approval - but from a Chinese medicine perspective the drugs themselves are a toxin which will have an impact on the body's energies beyond the positive effects they have on the specific problem, and it is always possible to reduce the discomfort that these cause. A classic example for us is the use of acupuncture for the nausea caused by chemotherapy. There is a great deal of research which shows that the anti-emetic effect is strong without compromising the effect the drug has on cancer cells.

The best advice that we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief consultation about what benefits acupuncture may be able to offer. Your condition will have some sort of history, and even a brief narrative account may well offer some useful insights into what the problem is from a Chinese medicine perspective, what the underlying causes may be, and also what effects the medications are having on the system. This may encourage a practitioner to feel that there is a good chance of reducing the impact that these medications are having.

Q:  I have symptoms of arrhythmia.I do have an ICD to keep my heart in check in case of a runaway tachycardia episode .I take mexiletine and sotalol to prevent that from happening. .The drugs themselves are enough to kill me.  Would acupuncture be a viable alternative to all these medications,and to better my overall health? I am more than ready for a change! (Sick and tired of being sick and tired) I am only 61 yrs old with a lot of living yet to do.  I'm in good health otherwise.Just can't do the things I used to do......frustrating!!!

A:  We have to say that acupuncture is not viable as an alternative to your current medications.

This is a problem which we confront quite often with medications, and especially those prescribed for asthma. The medications are prescribed as a preventative, and if someone's condition is stable then it is extremely unlikely that a GP will consider stopping or reducing the dose. This is not a surprise. There is evidence to suggest that if long term medications for asthma are removed there is a slightly increased risk of a serious or fatal attack, and faced with this possibility for any preventive medicine it is likely to mean a lifetime regime. Better than the alternative, as they say.

However, we do treat many people with lifetime medication regimes and there is no doubt in our minds that acupuncture can sometimes make the side effects of the medication less unpleasant, and may also start to address the underlying problem for which someone is taking the meds. There are obviously no trials to validate this statement - they'd never get ethical approval - but from a Chinese medicine perspective the drugs themselves are a toxin which will have an impact on the body's energies beyond the positive effects they have on the specific problem, and it is always possible to reduce the discomfort that these cause. A classic example for us is the use of acupuncture for the nausea caused by chemotherapy. There is a great deal of research which shows that the anti-emetic effect is strong without compromising the effect the drug has on cancer cells.

The best advice that we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief consultation about what benefits acupuncture may be able to offer. Your condition will have some sort of history, and even a brief narrative account may well offer some useful insights into what the problem is from a Chinese medicine perspective, what the underlying causes may be, and also what effects the medications are having on the system. This may encourage a practitioner to feel that there is a good chance of reducing the impact that these medications are having. 

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