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Acupuncture as Alternative Anesthesia

Posted by Laura B.

Open-heart surgery is regularly performed using acupuncture as anesthesia, in places where acupuncture is considered a standard element of medical practice. Patients in our country are not often offered the choice of drug-free surgery. However, acupuncture as surgery anesthetic is beginning to make its mark in the U.S. In one recent case (2004), a Chinese-American woman elected to have breast reconstruction surgery (following cancer) performed using acupuncture as her only anesthetic. The surgery was performed at Oregon Health and Sciences University, with the assistance of a UCLA-trained MD/acupuncturist. The usual anesthesiologist was present, in case the patient needed medication at any point. The results surprised all of those who were skeptical, as the patient remained lucid and conversational throughout surgery, despite the occasional grimace.
Comments (4)
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You would have to be a firm believer in the science to opt for open heart surgery with no anesthetic. Wow. That's amazing... I mean, really. What can you say to that. It makes me feel like a bit of a wimp, actually, for ever even taking an aspirin. Wow.

I recently read an article that contests the idea of acupuncture as a viable anesthetic. Even in China, where it's used, almost all patients operated upon under acupuncture anesthesia receive other agents, like narcotic painkillers and sedatives, before and during the operation. Also, acupuncture needles may be inserted as much as several inches beneath the skin directly into major nerve trunks. These can be stimulated with electric shocks to exhaust their ability to conduct impulses and produce local anesthesia—which is not an acupuncture effect.

I was under general anasthesia as a young adult to get my tonsils out and I hated it. I woke up feeling like I had just woken up from death and that is an unpleasant feeling. It was certainly not like the feeling you get when you wake up from a nice sleep. For that reason I'd be interested in alternative forms of anesthesia that do not require a total knock-out of consciousness. I'm not sure if I would want to be totally awake during heart surgery but I dislike the alternative.

I have had a number of surgeries (the most recent being open abdominal) and I would not want to be awake for them. I could see using acupuncture to decrease the amount of drugs used, but I still don't want to be around when I am being sliced open. :)

It would be a great idea for pain management post surgery if the effects last long enough.

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