Acupuncture-Associated Vasovagal Response: Revised Terminology and Hospital Experience

Kimberly A. Christensen, Barbara J. Gosse, Celia Hildebrand, Lynn A. Gershan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Vasovagal responses associated with acupuncture therapy are relatively uncommon adverse events, occurring in ∼0.02%-7% of treatments. The complex neurocardiovascular reflexes involved in vasovagal responses can induce a range of symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, sweating, bradycardia, hypotension, and, in some cases, syncope or convulsions. Although patients typically recover quickly with proper support, these events may be of concern and anxiety-producing for both patient and provider. Providers need to be well-versed in methods for prevention and treatment of acupuncture-associated vasovagal responses to promote safe practice environments, patient satisfaction and comfort, and cost-effectiveness. Objectives: To examine the biomedical and Traditional Chinese Medicine mechanisms of vasovagal responses, propose updated terminology, and outline steps for prevention and treatment. Methods: During an 18-month period, 281 community-style acupuncture treatments were performed on family members of admitted patients and hospital staff members at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. Five (1.8%) treatments resulted in documented acupuncture-associated vasovagal response (AAVR) symptoms. Results: All 5 patients recovered from their AAVR symptoms after treatment interventions. After recovery, 3 patients reported reductions in their main complaint symptoms; main complaint symptom outcomes were not recorded for the other 2 patients. Conclusions: As integrative practices become more prevalent in academic institutions and primary care environments, clear communication about, as well as prevention treatment, documentation and reporting of acupuncture-associated adverse events will become increasingly valuable. The authors recommend that clinicians in integrative practice clinical environments consider developing formal AAVR response plans as well as training students, supervising and attending providers, and ancillary staff members to ensure rapid, prepared handling and documentation of AAVR incidents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-376
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Acupuncture
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Jamie Walski, BA, CCRP, Clinical Research and Cancer Survivorship Programs manager, University of Minnesota, and Jill Larsen, DAOM, DiplOM, LAc, for their support during this project. Gratitude is also extended to the patients and families, the dedicated staff at the UMMCH, and students at NWHSU, who exemplify an integrative and transdisciplinary approach to health care every day. Dr. Christensen is the recipient of the Pediatric Integrative Health Fellowship, sponsored jointly by the University of Minnesota’s medical school department of pediatrics and NWHSU.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


  • acupuncture therapy
  • adverse effects
  • needle shock
  • needle sickness
  • vasovagal shock
  • vasovagal syncope


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