I have often warned that, even if chiropractic manipulations were harmless (which they are clearly not), this would not necessarily apply to those who administer them, the chiropractors. They can do harm via interfering or advising against conventional interventions (the best-research example is immunization) or by treating conditions that they are not competent to tackle (like ear infections), or giving advice that endangers the health of the patient.
Italian authors reported the case of a 67-year-old woman, who had been suffering from low back pain due to herniated discs, decided to undergo chiropractic treatment. According to the chiropractor’s prescription, the patient drank about 8 liters of water in a day. During the afternoon, she developed headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, for which reason she consulted the chiropractor, who reassured the patient and suggested continuing the treatment in order to purify the body. The next day, following the intake of another 6 liters of water, the patient developed sudden water retention, loss of consciousness, and tonic-clonic seizures; for this reason, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with a coma from electrolyte alterations.
The diagnosis of water intoxication was stated based on the history reported by the family members; according to the clinical findings, the hydro-electrolytic alterations were adequately corrected, allowing the disease resolution. Once resolved the intoxication, the patient underwent surgery to treat a shoulder dislocation and a humerus fracture which occurred due to a fall consequent to the tonic-clonic seizures.
The Judicial Authority thus ordered a medico-legal evaluation of the chiropractor’s behavior in order to identify any professional liability issue.
The Italian authors commented that this case is peculiar since it shows the dangerous implications for the patients’ health and safety deriving from the prescription of a large quantity of water intake, without any control by the chiropractor, and thus underestimating the risks of such a practice, as evidenced by the suggestion to continue the water intake aiming to detoxify the body from pharmacological substances. As a consequence, the patient developed a severe form of hyponatremia, leading to life-threatening complications that could have been otherwise avoided.
The medico-legal evaluation of the case led to the admission of professional liability of the chiropractor, who
thus had to pay the damages to the patient.
It is, of course, tempting to argue that the patient was not very clever to follow this ridiculous advice (and that the chiropractor was outright stupid to give it). One might even go further and argue that most patients trusting chiros are not all that smart … one could … but it is far from me to do so.