Background: In order to evaluate the safety of acupuncture in China objectively, we investigated the adverse events associated with acupuncture based on three multicentre randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to assess the safety of acupuncture, identifying the common types of acupuncture adverse events, and analysing the related risk factors for their occurrence.
Methods: This observational study included patients who received acupuncture from three multicentre RCTs respectively for migraine, functional dyspepsia and Bell's palsy. The 1968 patients and their acupuncturists documented adverse events associated with acupuncture after treatment. We collected data about adverse events due to acupuncture treatment from their case report forms. We analysed the incidence and details of the adverse effects, and studied the risk factors for acupuncture adverse events with non-conditional logistic regression analysis.
Results: Among the 1968 patients, 74 patients (3.76%) suffered at least one adverse event throughout the treatment period. We did not observe the occurrence of serious adverse events. 73 patients with adverse events recovered within 2 weeks through effective treatment such as physiotherapy or self-treatment. A total of 3 patients withdrew because of adverse events. There were 9 types of adverse events related to acupuncture, including subcutaneous haematoma, bleeding, skin bruising and needle site pain. Subcutaneous haematoma and haemorrhage in the needling points were the most common adverse events. Age and gender were related to the occurrence of acupuncture adverse events. The older the patients were, the higher the risk of adverse events was. In addition, male patients had slightly higher risk of an adverse event than female patients.
Conclusions: Acupuncture is a safe therapy with low risk of adverse events in clinical practice. The risk factors for adverse events (AEs) were related to the patients' gender and age and the local anatomical structure of the acupoints. AEs could be reduced and mitigated by improving the medical environment, ensuring a high technical level of the acupuncture practitioners and establishing a good relationship of mutual trust between doctor and patient.