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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Acupuncture for COPD

Acupuncture for COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is defined as

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a collection of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.

The UK National Health Service elaborates on it thus: (link)

People with COPD have difficulties breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of their airways, this is called airflow obstruction. Typical symptoms of COPD include:
  1. increasing breathlessness when active

  2. a persistent cough with phlegm

  3. frequent chest infections

COPD is typically treated with medicines that help open up the airway, but these can do only so much.

Can Acupuncture Help?

According to this study by Coyle, et al, entitled “Acupuncture therapies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic review of  randomized, controlled trials.” (link), the answer could be yes.

Now, this isn’t really an experiment but a review.  What this means is that the authors looked at studies already published and then examined and collated the results.


What the scientists did:

The purpose of the review was to:

This literature review examined the efficacy and safety of acupuncture therapies for patients with COPD in improving lung function, increasing exercise capacity, creating positive subjective changes in symptoms, and enhancing health-related quality of life (Doyle, et al).

Translation: the authors wanted to see not only if patients could breathe better, but also to see if the patients could also move and tolerate more strenuous exercise.

The authors cited their methods as such:

The research team searched the following electronic databases from inception to April 2013: PubMed, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED), Embase (Elsevier), the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chongqing VIP Information Company (CQVIP), the Chinese Biomedical Literature Database (CBM), and Wanfang Data. The review included randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) that examined the benefits of acupuncture or other related therapies for treatment of COPD. Data were extracted into a predefined form; risk of bias was assessed according to the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool; and statistical analyses were made.

The authors made sure to note that these are randomized and controlled, meaning the scientists and patients didn’t know if they were getting real acupuncture or fake.  That way, we would have less bias or less chance for placebo effect.

The Results

Their results were as follows:

In total, 16 studies were included in the review. The research team found that the acupuncture therapies used in these studies improved health-related QoL. The team’s conclusions, comparing results from the interventions with placebo, were based on data from 3 questionnaires that the studies used: (1) the St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ), with a mean difference (MD) of -8.33 units (95% CI, -13.13 to -3.53); (2) dyspnea on the Medical Research Council’s (MRC’s) dyspnea scale, with an MD of -0.34 units (95% CI, -0.38 to -0.30); and (3) the Dyspnea Visual Analogue Scale (DVAS), with an MD of -8.85 mm (95% CI, -11.81 to -5.89). Compared with placebo, acupuncture therapies also increased the distance walked in 6 min (6MWT), with an MD of -28.14 (95% CI, 23.92 to 32.36) compared with placebo. No benefit was seen on measures of lung function when acupuncture therapies were compared with either placebo or drug therapy. Conclusion • Acupuncture therapies may result in clinically important improvements in QoL and dyspnea. Future high-quality RCTs should be undertaken to provide conclusive evidence concerning the benefits of acupuncture therapies in the treatment of COPD.

What they saw was that while acupuncture did NOT do much in terms of lung function, it DID result in greater distances walked compared with placebo.  Therefore, while the study is not conclusive, it offers hope.


“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” Http:// N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2014. <>.

Coyle ME, Shergis JL, Huang ET, Guo X, Di YM, Zhang A, Xue CC. Acupuncture therapies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic review of randomized, controlled trials. Altern Ther Health Med. 2014 Nov;20(6):10-23. PubMed PMID: 25478799.

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