Background: Although an increase in the use of acupuncture in recent years has been identified, there are few studies that focus attention upon the characteristics of acupuncture users. This survey aimed at providing a first step towards addressing this significant research gap.
Methods: This study was conducted as part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, and examined the characteristics of acupuncture users among middle aged Australian women between 50 and 55 years old. Data were collected on demographic measures, health status and health service use.
Results: The paper reports on 11 202 middle aged women, surveyed in 2001. We estimate that 4.5% of middle aged women consult an acupuncturist. Women who consult an acupuncturist are less likely to be married or living in a de facto relationship, are more likely to have had a major personal illness in the previous year, to have suffered from a variety of symptoms or have significantly lower scores (ie poorer health) on all eight dimensions of the SF-36 health-related quality of life scale. Women who use acupuncture are also higher users of 'conventional' health services.
Conclusions: While the development of a research base and clinical applications for acupuncture are ongoing, health professionals should be aware that acupuncture is currently being used by large numbers of middle aged women. In addition, given the relatively higher prevalence of acupuncture use reported in our study, it is important that further research explores acupuncture use in more detail and the relationship between women's health issues and their use and experience of acupuncture.