MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

medical ethics

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Last week, a naturopath who has been practicing naturopathy for more than three years, appeared in the Paris High Court. He is accused of “illegal practice of medicine” and of “usurpation of the title of doctor” after two of his cancer patients died.

Charles B. was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2016 but wanted to avoid traditional medicine. In March 2017, he consulted the naturopath, Miguel B., who studied for fourteen years in the United States and has a degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in molecular medicine. He knew that his qualifications did not allow him to practice in France and presented himself as a naturopath. Knowing about his client’s cancer, Miguel B. drew up a health plan for him that included numerous fasts and purges to detox his body.

In the following months, the cancer spreads to the lungs and brain. Charles B. wrote to his naturopath in early February: “Great pain, don’t know what to do”. The naturopath continued his advice: “You should go on a diet, rest and purge in the evening. In court, Charles B.’s father recalled a conversation between his son and Miguel B. during which the latter had said to Charles B.: “It would be a pity if you were to undergo this chemotherapy.” On 22 February 2018, now weighing only 59 kg, Charles B. finally decided to start chemotherapy. But it was already too late, and he died on 18 December 2018, at the age of 41, of a cancer from which more than 98% of patients usually recover. Charles B.’s wife stated that the naturopath had told her husband that he would not need chemotherapy. She believes that the defendant is “responsible and even guilty” of her husband’s death.

The family of another patient of Miguel B. has also joined the case. Catherine F., who had been suffering from cervical cancer, died at the age of 39. She had followed, among other treatments, a fast recommended by the naturopath and was one of 149 further patients whose list was found on a USB stick belonging to the defendant.

 

 

They say, one has to try everything at least once – except line-dancing and incest. So, when I was invited to co-organize a petition, I considered it and thought: WHY NOT?

Here is the text (as translated by myself) of our petition to the German Medical Association:

 

 

Dear President Dr Reinhardt,

Dear Ms Lundershausen,

Mrs Held,

Dear Ms Johna,

We, the undersigned doctors, would like to draw your attention to the insistence of individual state medical associations on preserving “homeopathy” as a component of continuing medical education. We hope that you, by virtue of your office, will ensure a nationwide regulation so that this form of sham treatment [1], as has already happened in other European countries, can no longer call itself part of medicine.

We justify our request by the following facts:

  1. After the landmark vote in Bremen in September 2019 to remove “homeopathy” from the medical training regulations, 10 other state medical associations have so far followed Bremen’s example. For reasons of credibility and transparency, it would be desirable if the main features of the training content taught were not coordinated locally in the future, but centrally and uniformly across the country so that there is no “training tourism”. Because changes to a state’s own regulations of postgraduate training are only binding for the examination committee of the respective state, this does not affect national regulations but is reduced to only a symbolic character without sufficient effects on the portfolio of medical education nationwide.
  2. Medicine always works through the combination of a specifically effective part and non-specific placebo effects. By insisting on a pseudo-medical methodology – as is “homeopathy” represents in our opinion – patients are deprived of the specific effective part and often unnecessarily deprived of therapy appropriate to the indication. Tragically, it happens again and again that the “therapeutic window of opportunity” for an appropriate therapy is missed, tumors can grow to inoperable size, etc.
  3. Due to the insistence of individual state medical associations on the “homeopathic doctrine of healing” as part of the medical profession, we are increasingly exposed to the blanket accusation that, by tolerating this doctrine, we are supporting and promoting ways of thinking and world views that are detached from science. This is a dangerous situation, which in times of a pandemic manifests itself in misguided aggression reflected not just in vaccination skepticism and vaccination refusal, but also in unacceptable personal attacks and assaults on vaccinating colleagues in private practice.
[1] Homöopathie – die Fakten [unverdünnt] eBook : Ernst, Edzard, Bretthauer, Jutta: Amazon.de: Kindle-Shop

Responsible:

Dr. med. Dent. Hans-Werner Bertelsen

Prof. Dr. med. Edzard Ernst

George A. Rausche

You can sign the petition here:

Petition an die Bundesärztekammer › Sachverständiger kriminalistische Forensik, Foto- Videoforensik, digitale Forensik und der Identifikation lebender Personen nach Bildern (rauscher.xyz)

 

Static or motion manual palpation tests of the spine are commonly used by chiropractors and osteopaths to assess pain location and reproduction in low back pain (LBP) patients. But how reliable are they?

The purpose of this review was to evaluate the reliability and validity of manual palpation used for the assessment of LBP in adults. The authors systematically searched five databases from 2000 to 2019 and critically appraised the internal validity of studies using QAREL and QUADAS-2 instruments.

A total of 2023 eligible articles were identified, of which 14 were at low risk of bias. Evidence suggests that reliability of soft tissue structures palpation is inconsistent, and reliability of bony structures and joint mobility palpation is poor. Preliminary evidence was found to suggest that gluteal muscle palpation for tenderness may be valid in differentiating LBP patients with and without radiculopathy.

The authors concluded that the reliability of manual palpation tests in the assessment of LBP patients varies greatly. This is problematic because these tests are commonly used by manual therapists and clinicians. Little is known about the validity of these tests; therefore, their clinical utility is uncertain. High quality validity studies are needed to inform the clinical use of manual palpation tests.

I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the diagnostic methods used by chiropractors and osteopaths are of uncertain or disproven validity (see for instance here, or here). Why is that important?

Imagine you consult a chiropractor or osteopath. Simply put, this is what is likely to happen:

  • They listen to your complaint.
  • They do a few tests which are of dubious validity.
  • They give you a diagnosis that is meaningless.
  • They treat you with manual therapies that are neither effective nor safe.
  • You pay.
  • They persuade you that you need many more sessions.
  • You pay regularly.
  • When eventually your pain has gone away, they persuade you to have useless maintenance treatment.
  • You pay regularly.

In a nutshell, they have very little to offer … which explains why they attack everyone who dares to disclose this.

Prior research has generated inconsistent results regarding vaccination rates among patients using so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Given that SCAM includes a wide range of therapies – about 400 different treatments have been counted – variable vaccination patterns may occur within consultations with different types of SCAM practitioners.

A recent analysis aimed to evaluate differences between categories of SCAM regarding vaccination behavior among US adults.

Data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS; n = 26,742; response rate 80.7%) were used. Prevalences of flu vaccination, consultations with SCAM practitioners in the past 12 months, and their potential interactions were examined. 42.7% of participants had received the flu vaccination in the past 12 months, 32.4% had seen one or more SCAM practitioners. Users of any type of SCAM were as likely as non-users to have received a flu vaccination (44.8% users versus 41.7% non-users; p = 0,862; adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.95–1.07).

Regarding specific SCAM types,

  • individuals consulting with naturopaths (p < 0.001; AOR = 0.67, 95 %CI = 0.54–0.82),
  • homeopaths (p < 0.001; AOR = 0.55; 95 %CI = 0.44–0.69)
  • chiropractors (p = 0.016; AOR = 0.9, 95 %CI = 0.83–0.98)

were less likely to be vaccinated. Other SCAMs showed no significant association with flu vaccination behavior. Independent predictors for a flu shot were prior diabetes, cancer, current asthma, kidney disease, overweight and current pregnancy. As well, higher educational level, age, ethnicity, health insurance coverage, and having seen a general physician or medical specialist in the past 12 months were also associated with a higher vaccination rate.

The authors concluded that SCAM users were equally likely to receive an influenza vaccination compared with non-users. Different SCAM therapies showed varied associations with vaccination behavior. Further analyses may be needed to distinguish influencing factors among patients’ vaccination behavior.

This survey confirms what we have discussed repeatedly on this blog (see, for instance here, here, here, here, and here). The reason why consumers who consult naturopaths, homeopaths, or chiropractors get vaccinated less regularly is presumably that these practitioners tend to advise against vaccinations. And why do they do that?

  • Naturopaths claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.
  • Homeopaths claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.
  • Chiropractors claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.

Do these ‘therapeutic options’ – detox, nosodes, spinal manipulation – have anything in common?

Yes, they are bogus!

Conclusion:

Many naturopaths, homeopaths, and chiropractors seem to be a risk to public health.

It has recently been reported that a Canadian naturopath claims he can treat autism with fecal transplants at a clinic in Mexico.  The College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. has thus barred him stating that it has taken “extraordinary action” against Jason Klop in response to a complaint from a whistle-blowing former employee, who alleges that he manufactured these products in a “household lab” in B.C. without standard procedures or quality control.

While the complaint is under investigation, Klop cannot manufacture, advertise or sell fecal microbiota transplants (FMT). He’ll also be subject to random on-site audits to make sure he’s not violating his conditions.

This is the first public sign of concrete action by the college since CBC News reported on Klop’s business in January 2020 — nearly 20 months ago. Klop has been charging about $15,000 US for autistic children as young as two years old to have FMT treatment at a clinic near Tijuana. The process isn’t approved as a treatment of autism and carries serious risks of infection.

An illustration shows how fecal microbiota transplants are produced. (Vancouver Island Health Authority)

In a promotional video posted in January, Klop says he believes that “precision manipulation of the gut microbiome will solve every single chronic disease.” He also issued an affidavit boasting that he has a new lab that “produces the best and safest FMT materials in the world” and described the former employee who complained as “manifestly unreliable.” Klop argued that “lives are at stake” if he were to stop what he’s doing and described his therapy as a “life-saving measure.”

_____________________

Is there any evidence at all for FMT as a treatment of autism? A recent systematic review drew this conclusion: evidence from human studies suggesting beneficial effects of probiotic, prebiotic, and combination thereof, as well as fecal transplants in autism spectrum disorder, is limited and inconclusive.

 

 

Cannabis seems often to be an emotional subject where more heat than light is generated. Does it work for chronic pain? This cannot be such a difficult question to answer definitively. Yet, systematic reviews have provided conflicting results due, in part, to limitations of analytical approaches and interpretation of findings.

A new systematic review is therefore both necessary and welcome. It aimed at determining the benefits and harms of medical cannabis and cannabinoids for chronic pain. Included were all randomised clinical trials of medical cannabis or cannabinoids versus any non-cannabis control for chronic pain at ≥1-month follow-up.

A total of 32 trials with 5174 adult patients were included, 29 of which compared medical cannabis or cannabinoids with placebo. Medical cannabis was administered orally (n=30) or topically (n=2). Clinical populations included chronic non-cancer pain (n=28) and cancer-related pain (n=4). Length of follow-up ranged from 1 to 5.5 months.

Compared with placebo, non-inhaled medical cannabis probably results in a small increase in the proportion of patients experiencing at least the minimally important difference (MID) of 1 cm (on a 10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS)) in pain relief (modelled risk difference (RD) of 10% (95% confidence interval 5% to 15%), based on a weighted mean difference (WMD) of −0.50 cm (95% CI −0.75 to −0.25 cm, moderate certainty)). Medical cannabis taken orally results in a very small improvement in physical functioning (4% modelled RD (0.1% to 8%) for achieving at least the MID of 10 points on the 100-point SF-36 physical functioning scale, WMD of 1.67 points (0.03 to 3.31, high certainty)), and a small improvement in sleep quality (6% modelled RD (2% to 9%) for achieving at least the MID of 1 cm on a 10 cm VAS, WMD of −0.35 cm (−0.55 to −0.14 cm, high certainty)). Medical cannabis taken orally does not improve emotional, role, or social functioning (high certainty). Moderate certainty evidence shows that medical cannabis taken orally probably results in a small increased risk of transient cognitive impairment (RD 2% (0.1% to 6%)), vomiting (RD 3% (0.4% to 6%)), drowsiness (RD 5% (2% to 8%)), impaired attention (RD 3% (1% to 8%)), and nausea (RD 5% (2% to 8%)), but not diarrhoea; while high certainty evidence shows greater increased risk of dizziness (RD 9% (5% to 14%)) for trials with <3 months follow-up versus RD 28% (18% to 43%) for trials with ≥3 months follow-up; interaction test P=0.003; moderate credibility of subgroup effect).

The authors concluded that moderate to high certainty evidence shows that non-inhaled medical cannabis or cannabinoids results in a small to very small improvement in pain relief, physical functioning, and sleep quality among patients with chronic pain, along with several transient adverse side effects, compared with placebo.

This is a high-quality review. Its findings will disappoint the many advocates of cannabis as a therapy for chronic pain management. The bottom line, I think, seems to be that cannabis works but the effect is not very powerful, while we have treatments for managing chronic pain that are both more effective and arguably less risky. So, its place in clinical routine is debatable.

PS

Cannabis is, of course, a herbal remedy and therefore belongs to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Yet, I am aware that the medical cannabis preparations used in most studies are based on single cannabinoids which makes them conventional medicines.

We have covered urine therapy several times already (see for instance here, and here). Essentially it is ineffective but harmless …

except…

CTV reported that a mother in Canada has temporarily lost her right to unsupervised parenting over allegations she made her young son drink his own urine as part of a controversial so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Specifically, she had fed the eight-year-old boy smoothies made with his own urine.

Apparently, the mother began pursuing a fringe “natural and holistic” lifestyle about three years ago. “It has created significant distrust by the (father) as to the respondent’s judgment in ensuring that the child is safe in her care, which came to a head when the allegation that she was imposing urine therapy on the child arose,” the judge wrote.

The mom’s interest in alternative medicine previously resulted in her seeking unsupported remedies such as homeopathy to treat her breast cancer – all of which failed, ultimately leaving her with no choice but to undergo surgery. Eventually, that inclination also brought her to urine therapy, described in the decision as “a centuries-old practice of drinking one’s own urine and massaging it into one’s skin.”

The mother admitted in court that she started drinking her own urine last January, and even that she appeared on an obscure podcast called “Healing Powers of Urine Therapy,” but denied forcing her son to take part in the practice. The father recounted an after-school incident in which the child approached him looking confused and guilty and said, “I have a secret, you have to promise me not to tell mom. Mom made me pee in a jar, then she put the pee into my fruit smoothie.” The boy later repeated the allegations during an appointment alone with their family doctor. The child said he “didn’t want to do it, told his mom he didn’t want to but she encouraged him to.”

There were also concerns raised about the mother’s fasting, which the father said went on for days on end and left her physically incapable of caring for their son. The judge wasn’t convinced that foregoing food left the mom unable to parent, but ultimately said she agreed with the father’s assessment that, while his former partner loves their son, her “judgment and health are questionable at this time.” The judge ruled that the mother can have parenting time from Sunday mornings to Wednesday evenings, but only with supervision from a professional or a third party agreed upon by both parents.

_________________

The case shows that, once a gullible consumer falls under the influence of the SCAM cult and goes ‘off the rails’, there are no limits. This woman started by treating her cancer with homeopathy and, even though this was not successful, she continued to slide down the slippery SCAM slope until, finally, she experimented with urine therapy on her own son. This indicates to me that we might have to add another risk to the many dangers of homeopathy: it can serve as a gateway drug for all sorts of other SCAMs.

The General Chiropractic Council (GCC) regulates chiropractors in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar to ensure the safety of patients undergoing chiropractic treatment. The GCC sets the standards of chiropractic practice and professional conduct that all chiropractors must meet.

By providing a lengthy ruling in the case of the late John Lawler and his chiropractor, Arlene Scholten, the GCC has recently established new standards for chiropractors working in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar (see also today’s article in The Daily Mail). If I interpret the GCC’s ruling correctly, a UK chiropractor is henceforth allowed to do all of the following things without fearing to get reprimanded, as long as he or she produces evidence that the deeds were done not with malicious intentions but in a state of confusion and panic:

  • Treat a patient with treatments that are contraindicated.
  • Fail to obtain informed consent.
  • Pose as a real doctor without informing the patient that the practitioner is just a chiropractor who has never been near a medical school.
  • Cause the death of a patient by treatment to the neck.
  • Administer first aid in a way that makes matters worse.
  • Tell lies to the ambulance men who consequently failed to employ a method of transport that would save the patient’s life.
  • Keep inaccurate patient records that conceal what treatments were administered.

In previous years, the job of a chiropractor had turned out to be demanding, difficult, and stressful. This was due not least to the GCC’s professional standards which UK chiropractors were obliged to observe. The code of the GCC stated prominently that “our overall purpose is to protect the public.

All this is now a thing of the past.

The new ruling changed everything. Now, UK chiropractors can relax and can happily pursue their true devotion, namely to keep their bank manager happy, while not worrying too much about the welfare and health of their patients.

In the name of all UK chiropractors, I herewith express my thanks to the GCC for unashamedly protecting first and foremost the interests of their members, while tacitly discarding medical ethics and evidently not protecting the public.

MAKE CHIROPRACTIC GREAT AGAIN!

On 19-30 April 2021 & 1-2 September, 2021 the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Chiropractic Council considered the case of Arleen Scholten, the chiropractor who treated John Lawler, the patient who died after her treatment. Details of the case can be found in the following posts:

The Committee considered there had been breaches of the Code, those breaches occurred as a result of Mrs. Scholten’s state of mind at the time and not as a result of a deliberate intention on her part to be inaccurate or misleading. In light of those circumstances, the Committee considered other members of the profession and fully informed members of the public would not consider her failings to be morally reprehensible or deplorable, but rather would consider them regrettable but understandable in the exceptional, albeit tragic, circumstances of this case. The Committee, therefore, agreed with the GCC’s expert witness Mr Brown and did not think Mrs Scholten’s conduct fell far short of the standard required of a registered chiropractor. The Committee was not satisfied, therefore, that her behaviour amounted to unacceptable professional conduct. Accordingly, the Committee found the allegation of UPC not to be well-founded.

How can this be right?

To remind us of the case, here is what I wrote about it previously:

The tragic case of John Lawler who died after being treated by a chiropractor has been discussed on this blog before. Naturally, it generated much discussion which, however, left many questions unanswered. Today, I am able to answer some of them.

  • Mr Lawler died because of a tear and dislocation of the C4/C5 intervertebral disc caused by considerable external force.
  • The pathologist’s report also shows that the deceased’s ligaments holding the vertebrae of the upper spine in place were ossified.
  • This is a common abnormality in elderly patients and limits the range of movement of the neck.
  • There was no adequately informed consent by Mr Lawler.
  • Mr Lawler seemed to have been under the impression that the chiropractor, who used the ‘Dr’ title, was a medical doctor.
  • There is no reason to assume that the treatment of Mr Lawler’s neck would be effective for his pain located in his leg.
  • The chiropractor used an ‘activator’ which applies only little and well-controlled force. However, she also employed a ‘drop table’ which applies a larger and not well-controlled force.

I have the permission to publish the submissions made to the coroner by the barrister representing the family of Mr Lawler. The barrister’s evidence shows that:

a. The treating chiropractor owed a duty of care to the Deceased, her patient;
b. That duty was breached in that:
i. After the Deceased reported loss of sensation and paralysis in his arms, the only safe and appropriate response was to:
1. Leave him in situ;
2. Await the arrival of the paramedic;
3. Provide an accurate history to the ambulance controller and attending paramedic;
ii. The treating chiropractor, in fact:
1. Manhandled the Deceased from the treatment bed into a sitting position on a chair;
2. Tipped his head backwards and gave “mouth to mouth” breaths;
3. Provided an inaccurate and misleading history to the paramedic and ambulance controller, causing the paramedic to treat the incident as “medical” not “traumatic” and to transport the Deceased downstairs to the ambulance without stabilising his neck.
c. The risk of death was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the breach;
d. In the absence of the breach:
iii. The paramedic would have stabilised the neck, in situ, and transported the Deceased on a scoop stretcher;
iv. The deceased would have survived.
e. Having regard to the risk of death involved, the misconduct was grossly negligent so as to be condemned as the serious crime of manslaughter. The decision to intervene as she did, went beyond a very serious mistake or very serious error of judgment having regard to the fact that:
i. She held herself out as a provider of (quasi) medical treatment;
ii. She styled herself as “doctor”, (when she was not entitled to do so);
iii. She intervened without any understanding of the injury she had caused nor any training in how to intervene safely.
___________________________________

The chiropractor, Mrs. Scholten, had been accused by the GCC of unacceptable professional conduct. The exact text of the GCC reads as follows :

1. Between 31 July 2017 and 11 August 2017, you provided chiropractic care and
treatment to Patient A at Chiropractic 1st, 68 The Mount, North Yorkshire, YO24 1AR,
(‘the Clinic’).
2. On 11 August 2017 you provided treatment to Patient A which included:
a. a drop technique applied to the thoracic spine;
b. the use of an Activator applied to the thoracic spine;
c. the use of an Activator applied to the cervical spine.
3. Following the drop technique, Patient A indicated he was in discomfort and had lost sensation in his arms and you inappropriately continued treatment.
4. During the course of a subsequent 999 telephone call:
a. you told the call handler that Patient A had laid on the adjusting table and you had used the Activator on his midback;
b. you told the call handler that when you were using the Activator on Patient A’s midback he had said his hands had gone numb;
c. you told the call handler that as Patient A was elderly you had never used any manual adjustment on Patient A;
d. you omitted to tell the call handler that you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
e. you omitted to tell the call handler that Patient A had first expressed discomfort following the drop technique;
f. you omitted to tell the call handler that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine.
5. When paramedics arrived at the Clinic:
a. you told them words to the effect that you had manipulated Patient A’s midback with the use of an Activator;
b. you told them words to the effect that Patient A had first complained of discomfort when you had been using the Activator on his midback;
c. you omitted to tell the paramedics you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
d. you omitted to tell the paramedics that Patient A had first expressed discomfort following the drop technique;
e. you omitted to tell the paramedics that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine;
f. you demonstrated the force applied by an Activator on one of the paramedic’s arms.
6. In Patient A’s records for 11 August 2017:
a. you recorded that you had used the Activator on Patient A’s thoracic spine at T2/3 level;
b. you recorded that Patient A had directly said his arms felt numb;
c. you omitted to record that you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
d. you omitted to record that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine.
7. Your comments and omissions as set out above at 4 and/or 5, and/or as recorded at 6 above, were;
a. inaccurate;
b. misleading;
c. dishonest in that you intended to mislead as to the precise details of the treatment you had provided Patient A

Mr Goldring, on behalf of Mrs Scholten, indicated that the following facts were admitted: Particulars 1, 2(a), 4(a), 4(b), 4(c), 4(d), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(f), 6(a), 6(b), 6(c) and 7(a) and (b), insofar as they related to the aforementioned admitted facts. The Chair therefore announced that those matters were found proved. Later in the proceedings Mr Goldring indicated that 7(a) and 7(b) were not in fact admitted in respect of 4(c) and 6(b), since it was Mrs Scholten’s case that she had not used any manual adjustment on Patient A, (Particular 4(c)) and the record that Patient A had directly said his arms felt numb was accurate, (Particular 6(b)). Accordingly, the Chair formally announced that position.

END OF QUOTES

I am totally baffled by this ruling.

  • What about the fact that the chiropractor’s treatment was not even indicated?
  • What about the fact that no informed consent was obtained?
  • What about the fear that the chiropractor moved her patient after the injury had happened and made an attempt of ‘mouth to mouth’ resuscitation which seems to have aggravated the injury?
  • What about the fact that she misled the paramedics which then caused them not to stabilise Mr. Lawlwer’s neck?

Is the GCC truly saying that, as long as a chiropractor panics, all these mistakes can be excused? I am at a complete loss trying to understand the GCC ruling and very much hope that someone can explain it to me.

 

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?

Easy:

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

 

 

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