Written by Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated July 14, 2018

Acupuncture for breathlessness

Abstract and key points

  • Acupuncture usually entails the needling of specific points located on the body surface.
  • The effectiveness of acupuncture for cancer-related breathlessness is uncertain; few trials are available and effects on breathlessness have not been confirmed although potentially beneficial effects on anxiety and morphine use in breathlessness warrant further investigation. Serious complications of acupuncture exist but are probably very rare.

Acupuncture typically entails needling specific points of the body surface. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy, illness is caused by imbalances of energies in the body, and acupuncture is a treatment that re-balances energies. Therefore, it is claimed to be helpful in for many health-related problems. Many providers advocate it for a wide range of conditions and symptoms, including cancer-related breathlessness.

Few clinical trials have been carried out. These have not demonstrated a clear effect of acupuncture on breathlessness but have indicated there may be beneficial effects in reducing morphine requirements and reducing anxiety related to breathlessness. These preliminary findings do require further confirmation.

Mild adverse effects can be expected in about 10% of all cases, and serious complications, such as pneumothorax and hepatitis, seem to be very rare.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of acupuncture at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Acupuncture for breathlessness [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Acupuncture-for-breathlessness. July 14, 2018.

Document history

Revised and updated in July 2018 by Karen Pilkington.
Revised and updated in July 2015 by Karen Pilkington.
Summary first published in July 2013, authored by Edzard Ernst.

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