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|Director, Emergency Medicine Centre, and Consultant in Emergency Medicine|
Mei-yi visited acupuncturist once or twice a week for treatment to relieve pain and stiffness in her neck and shoulders. Given its fruitful efficacy, she started to invite her relatives and friends to receive the therapy together. Mei-yi and her family visited an acupuncture clinic every Saturday, and this practice has been kept for a few years.
One day after work, Mei-yi recommended acupuncture to her colleagues, sharing her own experience with explanation of its benefits. After Mei-yi arrived at the clinic, she told her acupuncturist that she had had a boat party and taken part in some watersports at the past weekend. So, she was tired and felt aches and pains all over her body, hoping that acupuncture could give her some relief. After a one-hour treatment, when Mei-yi was going to have dinner with her colleagues, she began to feel unwell with a severe pain in her back, followed by continuing deep pants. Seeing her condition, her companions sent her to the emergency room at once.
Acupuncture may cause pneumothorax, which could be fatal
An emergency room doctor conducted a checkup for Mei-yi but found no superficial wound on her. She also emphasized that she had not been hit lately except her receiving an acupuncture treatment just now. In order to find out the cause, the doctor arranged an X-ray examination for Mei-yi, which discovered that a pneumothorax (also known as â€œcollapsed lungâ€) occurred in her left lung. Thus, the chest tube drainage operation was needed.
With regard to the cause of this traumatic pneumothorax case, the doctor considered that it was relevant to her acupuncture treatment. Nonetheless, Mei-yi was in some doubt about what the doctor had said, as she had received the therapy for quite a while without any accident or discomfort happening until then. Additionally, there was no insertion of needle made into the skin in and around the area of her lungs during the treatment. Hence, there should be no reason that her lung was pierced. After she was in torment for a couple of days, however, Mei-yi just wanted to go home and was no longer interested in further investigation in her case.
Thin people should pay extra attention
Two months later, Mei-yi has already forgotten the mishap of pneumothorax. One Sunday morning, she and her younger sister Mei-lan went for acupuncture together before having lunch at home. After the meal, Mei-lan suddenly began to pant and feel short of breath. Because Mei-lan has been physically weak, only weighing some 80 pounds at her age of 24, her family was nervous about her and decided to send her to the emergency room immediately.
Mei-lan was X-rayed and an approximately 50% pneumothorax was found.
After learning that Mei-lan had been acupunctured just now, her doctor believed the treatment was relevant to her case, explaining that since the collar bone is adjacent to the lungs in a human body, the tips of acupuncture needles may possibly stab into the organs if insertion of the needles is made relatively deep into a thin patient. The doctor added that there are pleurae lining between the lungs and ribs. In normal circumstances, the pleural cavity is airtight. But it is possible for air to enter and fill the ribcage once pleura is broken due to trauma, and that will result in pneumothorax. When gas accumulates in the ribcage, pressure will be formed and consequently hinder the normal operation of the lungs, influencing the patientâ€™s breath and blood circulation. In severe cases, death could even be expected.
Patients of minor pneumothorax may recover by themselves merely with clinical observation or bed rest. Moreover, oxygen therapy is able to speed up the rehabilitation. For those in a more serious condition, aspiration is required based on respective cases. Tools such as syringe and chest tube are used for evacuating the gas collected in the ribcage.
In her recollection, Mei-lan said she had felt a sudden pain during the acupuncture treatment, thinking it was at that moment her lung was pierced. She underwent aspiration at once so as to drain away the air from her ribcage. Although Mei-lan has already recovered from hospitalization, she was reluctant to be acupunctured again, worrying about a recurrence of accident. The sisters were also advised by their doctors that for the protection of their health and safety, they should only look for experienced and trustworthy acupuncturists if such treatment is needed.