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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


Traumatic Pneumothorax in a 58-Year-Old Man: A Case Report of a Rare Post-Acupuncture Adverse Event

Unusual clinical course, Challenging differential diagnosis, Unusual or unexpected effect of treatment, Diagnostic / therapeutic accidents, Educational Purpose (only if useful for a systematic review or synthesis)

Brittany Smith, Sungyub Lew, Prabhjot Manes

Grenada Saint George’s University School of Medicine, True Blue, Grenada

Am J Case Rep 2021; 22:e928094

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.928094

Available online: 2020-12-08

Published: 2021-01-24


BACKGROUND: The prevalence of chronic medical conditions continues to rise, as does the number of patients seeking alternative treatments for them. Chronic pain is a prevalent medical complaint and acupuncture often is used to treat it. The Chinese literature documents several adverse events (AEs) associated with acupuncture, including cardiac tamponade, pneumothorax, infection, and nerve injuries. These complications are rare and may be associated with anatomical characteristics of the patients and deep insertion of the acupuncture needles. Differences in body type, weight, height, sex, and muscle mass contribute to anatomical differences and the depth at which vital organs lie. Having a better understanding of these anatomical differences may alter the occurrence of such AEs.
CASE REPORT: A slim 58-year-old man who was treated for neck pain with acupuncture presented with 2-day history of moderate-severity pleuritic and sharp pain radiating from the left scapula to the midaxillary and retrosternal area. A left-sided pneumothorax was diagnosed on chest X-ray and the patient was treated with a chest tube.
CONCLUSIONS: This case underscores that acupuncture can result in complications such as a pneumothorax from puncture of the pleura. These types of AEs from acupuncture can be avoided with a better understanding of anatomical differences, including body mass index and variations in depth associated with body size, musculature, or skeletal structure. When placing the needles, it is crucial for practitioners to know that the depth at which vital organs lie may differ between patients.

Keywords: Acupuncture, Acupuncture Points, Iatrogenic Disease, Pneumothorax, Body Mass Index, case reports