Risks associated with the practice of traditional Chinese medicine: an Australian study

Arch Fam Med. Nov-Dec 2000;9(10):1071-8. doi: 10.1001/archfami.9.10.1071.


Objective: To investigate the nature and frequency of adverse events that occur as a result of the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine) in Australia.

Methods: Data on adverse events were obtained as part of a comprehensive survey of all occupational health groups, government-registered and unregistered, who practiced traditional Chinese medicine or 1 of its main modalities.

Results: Practitioners reported numerous adverse events arising from the application of acupuncture (including fainting, nausea and vomiting, and increased pain), or the consumption of Chinese herbal medicines (including direct toxic effects and allergic reactions). Practitioners experienced an average of 1 adverse event every 8 to 9 months of full-time practice or 1 adverse event for every 633 consultations. The mean adverse event rate of nonmedical practitioners was less than half the mean adverse event rate of medical practitioners.

Conclusions: The practices of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are not risk-free and fatalities have occurred. Variation in adverse event rates between medical and nonmedical practitioners may reflect differences in relevant education or different reporting behaviors. These data represent the first step in the evaluation of adverse event rates in traditional Chinese medicine. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:1071-1078

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Australia
  • Data Collection
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal