FAQs: visiting the acupuncturist

This review will help you decide if you should see an acupuncturist and what you can expect.

By John Russo Jr./Vicus.com

VICUS.COM (26 July 2000) — These frequently asked questions (FAQs) will help you decide whether acupuncture treatment is for you, what to expect when you visit and how to find an acupuncturist near you.Some basic questions about acupuncture 

Does acupuncture really work? There are thousands of published articles that document the effects of acupuncture. Although many of these studies do not meet Western scientific standards, persuasive studies have been performed of several conditions, including chronic and acute pain, substance abuse, nausea and stroke. Acupuncture has also been shown to increase total white blood cell count count and T-cell production in patients with HIV and AIDS and has been associated with increasing their life span and quality of life.

What other conditions respond to acupuncture? The World Health Organization lists more than 100 conditions that respond to acupuncture. Relief from pain is probably the best documented. It can also help in the management of depression, worry, insomnia and nervous disorders. Acupuncture does not cure AIDS; however, it has been useful in the management of night sweats, fatigue and digestive disorders in patients with AIDS. It also has shown beneficial effects in the treatment of addiction.

Should I consider seeing an acupuncturist for treatment? For the conditions listed here and others, acupuncture is probably worthwhile, particularly if you are not getting sufficient relief from conventional treatment. However, acupuncture should be viewed from an integrative perspective. Don’t abandon treatment prescribed by your doctor and be sure to tell your doctor and acupuncturist that you are integrating both treatments.

How often will I need acupuncture treatment? The number of treatments depends on the condition being treated. For a chronic condition such as arthritis, be prepared to have regular treatments to keep the benefits you achieve. Finally, be prepared to weigh the benefits of acupuncture against the cost of treatment, as the treatments may not be covered by your health plan.

Visiting the acupuncturist

What will happen when I go to the acupuncture clinic? Similar to a visit to a medical doctor, you will fill out a questionnaire regarding your medical history and be interviewed by the acupuncturist. The acupuncturist will then compare the carotid pulse (which runs from the heart upward in the neck) to the radial pulse in the wrist when it is positioned at the level of the heart. The strengths of the carotid and radial arteries should be about equal on each side of the body. If not, the relative differences will help the acupuncturist prescribe the appropriate therapy.

What should I tell the acupuncturist? Be sure to tell the acupuncturist if you are pregnant, if you have a heart condition, if you have a pacemaker or if you have any other condition that might be aggravated by acupuncture treatment. Also, be prepared to provide your medical history, including all of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. These include herbal medicine and nutritional supplements.

How long will the procedure take? Treatment lasts from a few seconds to 45 minutes or longer. Sometimes, an ear needle may be covered with tape and left in place for more than a week.

Finding an acupuncturist

OK, how do I find a qualified acupuncturist? You can start with the acupuncturist directory on the Vicus.com website. There are more than 10,000 acupuncturists in the United States, and many states require them to be licensed. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has certified about 9,000 practitioners who have met national standards. And, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture has a membership of about 1,400 medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy who have completed at least 220 hours of training in acupuncture.

The table below lists additional resources that will help identify the best acupuncturist for you.

 Table. Organizations that maintain referral lists of acupuncturists

Organization/Contact Information  Services
National Certification Commission
for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
Alexandria, Va.
Phone: (703) 548-9004
Certifies acupuncturists and has a directory of practitioners.
The American Association of Oriental Medicine
Catasauqua, Pa.
Phone: (610) 266-1433
Maintains a directory of practitioners.
National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance
Olalla, Wash.
Phone: (253) 851-6896
Provides referrals on acupuncturists.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
Los Angeles, Calif.
(800) 521-2262
Maintains a directory. Membership is limited to medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy who have completed a training program of 220 hours.

John Russo Jr., Pharm.D., is senior vice president of medical communications at Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.

This article was updated on July 26, 2000. 


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