Acupuncture is usually promoted as a safe therapy. This may be good marketing but, sadly, it is not the truth. About 10% of all patients experience mild to moderate adverse effects such as pain or bleeding. In addition, there are well-documented complications, for instance:

However, there have been few reports of deaths due to pneumothorax after acupuncture treatment, especially focused on electroacupuncture.

Japanese authors recently reported an autopsy case of a man in his 60s who went into cardiopulmonary arrest and died immediately after receiving electroacupuncture. Postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) showed bilateral pneumothoraces, as well as the presence of numerous gold threads embedded subcutaneously. An autopsy revealed two ecchymoses in the right thoracic cavity and a pinhole injury on the lower lobe of the right lung, suggesting that the needles had penetrated the lung. There were marked emphysematous changes in the lung, suggesting that rupture of bullae might also have contributed to bilateral pneumothoraces and fatal outcomes. The acupuncture needles may have been drawn deeper into the body than at the time of insertion due to electrical pulses and muscle contraction, indicating the need for careful determination of treatment indications and technical safety measures, such as fail-safe mechanisms.

This is the first case report of fatal bilateral pneumothoraces after electroacupuncture reported in the English literature. This case sheds light on the safety of electroacupuncture and the need for special care when administering it to patients with pulmonary disease who may be at a higher risk of pneumothorax. This is also the first report of three-dimensional reconstructed PMCT images showing the whole-body distribution of embedded gold acupuncture threads, which is unusual.

One-sided pneumothoraxes are common events after acupuncture. Several hundred cases have been published and the vast majority of such incidents remain unpublished or even unnoticed. These events are not normally life-threatening. If ‘only’ one lung is punctured, the patient may experience breathing difficulties, but in many cases these are temporary and the patient soon recovers.

Yet a bilateral pneumothorax is an entirely different affair. If both lungs malfunction, the patient’s chances of survival are slim unless he/she is close to an intensive care unit.

You might think that it needs an especially ungifted acupuncturist to manage to puncture both lungs simultaneously. I might agree, but we need to consider that acupuncture needles are often inserted in a symmetrical fashion into the patient’s body. This means that, if the therapist puts a needle at one point of the thorax that is close to a lung, he is not unlikely to do the same on the other side.

And how does one prevent such disasters?


  • train acupuncturists properly,
  • avoid needles on the upper thorax,
  • or refuse acupuncture altogether.



13 Responses to Another death by acupuncture

  • The nonspecific effects of acupuncture can be obtained by good medical practice without the addition of risk filled iatrogenic injury.

  • Several hundred cases have been published and the vast majority of such incidents remain unpublished or even unnoticed.

    This is yet another way in which alternative treatments differ from real medicine: to the best of my knowledge, there is no obligation to report serious adverse events or errors involving alternative modalities; in most countries, there isn’t even a regulatory or disciplinary body where such reports can be registered.
    Real doctors, on the other hand, must by law report any serious mishaps and errors, and often, further inquiry in such events is also mandatory.

    This means that statistics and information on errors and serious adverse events are strongly biased against real medicine – as problems due to alternative interventions rarely get registered, let alone get acted upon.

    Which de facto also means that alternative practitioners can say whatever they want and do whatever they want with virtual impunity, whereas real doctors are held accountable for each and every intervention they perform, and any significant errors and misconduct are registered and investigated.

    • @Richard Rasker

      Say Richard
      I’ve got a anecdote for ya, you might be surprised to hear about it.
      It starts with the wife of a good friend I worked with.

      She was experiencing back pain from some lower back disc bulges. So she was referred to a “specialist” at a well known medical center.
      It’s been many years since I was being informed of the happening, so I don’t specifically remember the type of procedure the specialist preformed on her (or the others). Well, from the get go, it didn’t do well, when the lady woke up from surgery …. she was paralyzed from the waist down…. which meant no walking, and using a bag for the rest of her life. She continues in the state today.

      When the family looked into the Doctor more deeply, they found that he had performed the same exact surgery procedure on twenty-eight other patients with the same medical problem. Twenty-six of the twenty eight patients had the same end result as my friends wife…. very tragic.

      However, the story doesn’t end there. They banded together and took the doctor to court for malpractice. What they found out in the process was that the procedure that was performed on the patients was an EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE, not an approved procedure. Not one of the twenty-eight patients had been informed of the procedure being experimental.

      It doesn’t end there.
      So the “specialist” had his day in court. Her proceeded to bring “expert” witness to support his testimony and defend his position. In the end, the AMA gave the punishment to the specialist. He was fined a small amount of money. Beyond that, he was not allowed to practice for three months. That’s it !! … Story over.
      A slap on the wrist.
      This guy ruined the lives and families of twenty-six patients…. and was “practicing” again three months later.

      How’s that for “incidents remain unpublished or even unnoticed” ?
      You didn’t know about that one …. did ya ?

      • @Listener

        I’ve got a anecdote for ya, you might be surprised to hear about it.

        I’m never surprised when I hear anecdotes. I patiently listen to them, smile politely at the narrator, and then get on with more important things, such as inspecting how my lawn is coming along. Usually I can find a few rogue clover leaves or dandelion sprouts that need eradicating, or other life-or-death situations.

        So … 🙂

        Now, where’s my little root cutter ….

        • @Richard Rasker

          Ahhh, I understand sir. You don’t give a damn about scientific medicine damaging patients…. gotcha.

          When Homeopathic medicine leaves a patient with harm, you say it much be identified and the perpetrator must be punished. But when science based medicine screws up…. it’s all part of doing business.

          It happens to be a very true account. His name is also Richard…. Richard Byrd. He’s a safety specialist by trade, Retired a few years ago near Austin Texas… with his broken wife. I don’t have the name of the 25 others. Yup, true event. It’s too bad that some here have their eyes and ears so closed they can’t see or hear.

          Now, back to Homeopathy. As I’ve stated here many times previously, one of the biggest reasons that patients move towards Homeopathy is directly due to failed scientific medicine. There, I said it again, now believe it.

          • @Listener
            You really appear to have a problem understanding what people say. And worse: you put words in those other people’s mouth that they never said.

            I absolutely give a damn about real medicine screwing up, and I am appalled when I read about doctors trying to hide or play down their mistakes. And yes, those things happen – because doctors are humans, and even smart and well-educated humans can sometimes do very stupid things and/or break the law.

            But that is not the point here, and I don’t give a damn about the lies and fairy tales that you keep spouting in order to spin what is said here into your personal propaganda.

            I just make the observation that real doctors are required by law to report any mistakes that they make, and that regulatory bodies are required by law to investigate any incidents that have come to light – but that no such obligations or organisations exist for acupuncturists, chiropractors and other quacks.

            That doctors sometimes do not abide by those laws does not mean that quacks should be exempt from similar laws and regulations. If doctors fail to report mistakes that they make, they break the law. If OTOH quacks mess up, they don’t have to report this anywhere. And that is what my gripes are about.

          • @Richard Rasker

            Well, Richard
            I’m going to first say that it depends are where they practice. However, you may be correct about the requirement of non-reporting.
            That said, You are correct in part, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapist and other quacks may not be required to report injuries because many of them have their patients sign a disclaimer form known as a “informed consent to treatment”.

            That may or many not protect the practitioner from legal attacks, but it gives them something to stand on the defend themselves that indicates to the law that they informed the patients of the benefits and the risks.

            To my knowledge (in California), the only time the same is done the with science based medicine is for surgeries.

      • @Listener

        I’ve got a anecdote for ya, you might be surprised to hear about it.
        It starts with the wife of a good friend I worked with.

        Reads more like a tall tale rather than an anecdote. You might be surprised to hear that most people who read this blog on a regular basis are not at all surprised that you make up BS.

      • @Listener

        1) Presumably we wouldn’t know this surgeon because he goes to a different school

        2) Look up the Straw Man fallacy.

    • Real doctors, on the other hand, must by law report any serious mishaps and errors, and often, further inquiry in such events is also mandatory.

      Well, kind of. Audits have determined they often aren’t reported.

  • thank you for your posting.

  • Your reasoning is as stupid as concluding that airplanes should not be used because on September 11th thousands of people died because of a crashed plane.

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