A study undertaken in Italy suggests that acupuncture may be an effective, safe and non-invasive tool to help manage atrial fibrillation (AF). The researchers also speculate that acupuncture may be working by exerting a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system.
Patients with AF were recruited from a cardiac arrhythmia outpatient department in Milan, and were divided into two groups: 80 who had persistent AF, meaning they had recurring episodes lasting in excess of seven days, and 31 who had paroxysmal AF, meaning they had recurring episodes lasting less than seven days. Acupuncture treatment comprised a standardised course of ten weekly acupuncture sessions using acupuncture points traditionally used for the heart. All the persistent AF patients were given electrocardioversion to restore sinus rhythm.
In the persistent AF patients, those who had acupuncture had a recurrence rate of 35%, which was comparable to the 27% rate observed in patients taking the anti-arrhythmic drug amiodarone. Those who received only sham acupuncture, had a recurrence rate of 69%, similar to that of control patients who received no drug treatment.
In the paroxysmal AF group, most of whom were taking anti-arrhythmic drugs, acupuncture was associated with a significant reduction in the number and duration of AF episodes, from a median of 15 to 2; this effect was found to persist during a ten month period of follow-up.
(Acupuncture for Paroxysmal and Persistent Atrial Fibrillation: An Effective Non-Pharmacological Tool? World Journal of Cardiology, March 2012.)