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Acupuncture is generally considered to be safe when done by a trained professional.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles and restricts their use to licensed practitioners. The FDA requires acupuncture needles to be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use. If needles are reused, they can transmit infectious disease. To avoid this risk, make sure that your practitioner uses a new package of sterile, single-use needles at each appointment. In addition, the practitioner should swab each puncture site with alcohol before inserting the needle.

Acupuncture may not be safe for people who are taking blood thinners (anticoagulants) or who have bleeding disorders. Electroacupuncture should be avoided by anyone with a cardiac pacemaker, infusion pump, or other electrical device.

The most common side effects of acupuncture include bleeding, soreness, or bruising at the site of needle insertion. Other risks of acupuncture include dizziness, fainting, local internal bleeding, convulsions, hepatitis B, dermatitis, nerve damage, increased pain, and injury to an internal organ. Rarely, acupuncture has caused a punctured lung. The number of complications reported to the FDA is relatively low, given that millions of people receive acupuncture treatment each year.

The best way to reduce your risk of complications is to choose a competent, certified practitioner. You can begin by asking your health care provider for recommendations, or by asking a national acupuncture organization for a list of licensed practitioners in your area. Some conventional medical practitioners, including doctors and dentists, practice acupuncture. Be sure to check a prospective practitioner's credentials.

Be sure you tell your doctor about any complementary or alternative treatments you are receiving, including acupuncture. Tell your acupuncture practitioner about any conventional treatments you are receiving.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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